By Mohammed Taoheed
In 2015, Adigun Rafiu, a 40-year-old bricklayer, eagerly purchased an energy meter from the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) for N24,000. It was a significant investment for Rafiu, with the promise of improved access to electricity and a more reliable power supply. However, a year passed, and the meter never arrived at his doorstep, leaving him frustrated and out of pocket.
The story of Adigun Rafiu is all too familiar for many Nigerians who have experienced similar disappointments in their quest for reliable and affordable electricity. As a resident of Gbonmi in Osogbo Local Government, Osun State, Rafiu’s plight mirrors the challenges faced by approximately 43% of Nigeria’s population who lack access to grid electricity, as highlighted in a 2021 World Bank report.
Despite purchasing the meter and following all due processes, Rafiu’s experience took a frustrating turn. Not only did the promised meter fail to materialize, but his repeated attempts to seek redress, including obtaining a court order, were met with indifference and non-compliance by the IBEDC. This story highlights the systemic failures and lack of accountability that plague Nigeria’s electricity distribution companies, perpetuating a cycle of unfulfilled promises and customer disillusionment.
Urban Alert: Empowering communities to fight corruption in Nigeria
Urban Alert, an Osun-based civic-tech organization, is at the forefront of the battle against corruption in Nigeria’s public space. Leveraging the power of broadcast media, Urban Alert utilizes its special radio program, “Oju Eleri” (Eye Witness), to amplify the voices and complaints of the people, engaging the government and driving action.
When the organization receives complaints through their radio program, they swiftly respond by dispatching a team to the location in question, meticulously documenting the evidence. They then tag the relevant government or private organization responsible for the complaint on their social media platforms, urging them to take action. If a satisfactory response is not received, Urban Alert takes further steps such as visiting the offices in person, writing letters, or submitting Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to ensure accountability.
In February 2021, the nonprofit received a call on one of their radio programs from Adigun, who expressed frustration over the non-delivery of a meter despite having paid the required amount to the electricity distribution company (disco). Determined to verify the claim and seek justice, Urban Alert deployed team members to Adigun’s community. After confirming the validity of the complaint, the organization promptly wrote multiple letters to the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), detailing the issue and tagging them on social media.
To maximize their impact, Anthony Adejuwon, the team lead at Urban Alert, continuously highlighted Adigun’s case during his radio appearances, emphasizing the importance of public institutions working for the common good, especially for the less privileged. A month later, Adigun awoke to find the long-awaited meter delivered to his doorstep. His success story was one of the 600 others that Urban Alert proudly claimed to have resolved.
Urban Alert’s tireless efforts in driving accountability and seeking justice have not only transformed individual lives but also empowered communities to confront corruption in Nigeria.
Abideen Aremu, a 30-year-old resident of Orija in Ede North Local Government of Osun State, felt a deep sense of sadness whenever he drove through the streets of his community. The poor state of the roads had significant consequences for the community.
Recent media reports confirmed that the Osun State government has approved the reconstruction of some selected roads in the State. Urban Alert claimed it drew the attention of the government to some of the road projects that were featured in this approval like the road in Aremu’s community.
“The road in my area that we’ve been clamouring about for some time is now coming back to life as a result of the Urban Alert’s intervention, the government pays no listening ears to us before'” Aremu said.
In Atorin Ijesha, another town in Osun State, everything changed with the arrival of Chinese gold miners. “They invaded the area, clearing farmlands and causing significant environmental degradation,” Oba Omololu Ibitoye, the town’s king, explained in an interview.
“My community is now impoverished because our cash crop farmers have lost their source of income due to the activities of the Chinese miners, with the help of local ‘saboteurs’,” he said.
Through the Oju Eleri radio program, the challenges faced in the community was brought to the attention of the government and “the Chinese miners have started to leave, and partial reclamation efforts have been initiated by the Ministry of Mines,” Oba Ibitoye revealed.
Urban Alert and Rave FM partnership drive positive change in Osun State
Yemi Olabode, the anchor of the Oju Eleri program on Rave FM 91.7 in Oshogbo, spoke with Social Voices to shed light on the partnership between the radio station and Urban Alert. The collaboration has led to the airing of the program, which provides a platform for listeners to voice their complaints about challenges affecting their communities’ well-being. Through the program, the foundation takes action by bringing these issues to the attention of the relevant government agencies and stakeholders, seeking feasible solutions. The program airs from 11 am to 12 pm on Mondays, allowing ample time for discussions and engagement.
Yemi Olabode expressed satisfaction in the impact the program has made thus far. He mentioned that they have played a role in significant achievements, including contributing to the payment of half salary arrears for civil servants in the state, the rehabilitation of the Lameco-Okinni-Ilobu road, addressing the deplorable conditions of public infrastructure, and combating cable vandalization, among other issues. The program has become a catalyst for positive change in the region, effectively amplifying the concerns and needs of the people.
Urban Alert states that its interventions have benefited approximately 31,520 individuals, addressing 327 issues in various areas such as electricity, road construction, healthcare systems, environmental degradation, and insecurity.
Challenges abound in the pursuit of transparency and accountability
The Freedom of Information Act, implemented in Nigeria since 2011, has aimed to ensure access to public information and promote transparency. However, in Osun State, the failure to domesticate this law poses a significant obstacle for non-profit organizations like Urban Alert, which strive to track government deficiencies and hold them accountable. Anthony Adejuwon, the Team Lead of Urban Alert, expressed the difficulty in obtaining credible data and engaging with the government despite the provisions of the FOI Act.
“Access to public information is a tug of war in Nigeria. Despite the existence of the FOI Act, obtaining information and credible data for analysis and government engagement remains extremely challenging,” Adejuwon remarked. This lack of domestication of the law in Osun State hampers the organization’s efforts to gather essential information and ensure accountability.
Another hurdle faced by Urban Alert is the lack of cooperation from the government. Rather than viewing the organization as a collaborator in fostering development, the government often perceives it as an adversary. “They feel threatened because they understand that we are working towards positive change for the common man,” Adejuwon explained. This perception of Urban Alert as a threat further hinders their ability to effectively engage with government entities.
Furthermore, the organization faces a challenge in garnering full understanding and support from the local population, particularly regarding their strategies. Adejuwon shared an example of approaching a traditional ruler to facilitate a project outlined in the national budget by a lawmaker. However, the traditional ruler’s perception of such actions as confrontational to the legislator’s status leads to uncooperative behavior. This lack of comprehension among the local communities further complicates Urban Alert’s efforts to drive meaningful change.
As Urban Alert continues its pursuit of transparency and accountability, these challenges highlight the complex landscape in which they operate. Overcoming these hurdles will require not only legal reforms and improved government cooperation but also enhanced public understanding and support for the organization’s objectives.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.