A civic organization in Nigeria is promoting citizen engagement through open data and training journalists on data skills, to enhance transparency, accountability and good governance.
Friends Oluseun Onigbinde and Joseph Agunbiade started BudgIT in 2011, after hackathon the Co-Creation Hub in Lagos state in southwest Nigeria where participants worked to pitch their tech ideas. They came up with the idea of BudgIT as a way to revolutionize fiscal transparency and accountability in Nigeria.
“BudgIT is maximizing digital tools to promote government transparency and accountability,” says Shakir Akorede, BudgIT’s communication associate.
These tools include data analytics and visualization software, infographics, mobile apps, web-based communities and more to help citizens make sense of government budgets to promote higher government-citizen engagement.
“BudgIT believes it is the right of every citizen to have access to — and to also understand — public budgets,” Akorede says. “We also believe budgets must be efficiently implemented for the good of the people. That is why we empower citizens with public finance data so that they can demand accountability.”
In 2015, the Kaduna state government signed a contract with BudgIT to build Open Budget Mobile, a platform that enables citizens to monitor policies, budgets, procurement records and status of fund release via their mobile phones, promoting greater transparency. This is similar to the Buharimeter, a platform BudgIT built for the Center for Democracy and Development to hold President Muhammadu Buhari accountable for his campaign promises.
BudgIT believes that for democracy to work, civic organizations and the media must work together. “We place a premium on advancing our relationship with media entities in Nigeria and abroad,” Akorede says, because the organization believes that for democracy to work, civic organizations and the media need to work together.
“We are empowering Nigerian journalists and media organizations — who are constantly in need of data analysis know-how — with the required skills to better use journalism for open data and fiscal transparency advocacy in the country,” he adds.
According to their 2018 impact report, BudgIT has organized 18 data journalism workshops, partnered with 8 media organizations, and trained 80 civil society organizations.
BudgIT has received support from a number of different funders, including the MacArthur and Ford Foundations. In January 2017, BudgIT received an additional US$3 million grant from Omidyar Network and Gates Foundation to push the boundaries of open government and citizen engagement in Nigeria.
In 2017, BudgIT started a media fellowship for Nigerian journalists interested in reporting human interest stories on how people are affected by government policies. The six-month fellowship includes data journalism training, investigative reporting and research. For the past two years, the six selected fellows produced investigative stories that focus on government policies, while promoting transparency and accountability.
“It was a great opportunity — one which exposed me to new skills, especially in the area of tracking constituency projects using open data,” says Hannah Ajakaiye, a former BudgIT fellow. “I anchored reporting projects that raised the standard of transparency in government while driving engagement in civic matters. My work with BudgIT also expanded engagement at the grassroot level by fact-checking politicians’ claims on development projects in hard-to-reach rural communities.”
The 2019 edition of the fellowship will begin in November. The organization says it hopes to expand the focus and number of participants.
“The fellowship remains a signature effort to raise data nerds among Nigerian journalists and in return, boost data journalism, civic media and investigative reporting in the country,” Akorede says.