By Mohammed Taoheed
For three decades, the residents of Kawu, a local community in Lapai Local Government, Niger State, were deprived of electricity. Despite relentless efforts by the district head to reach out to the government for assistance, their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The irony is glaring – Niger State is home to two major hydroelectric power stations, the Kainji Dam and Shiroro Dam. Hence, the lack of stable power supply in every nook and cranny of the State is viewed by community member Muhammed Yerima as a clear testament to government failure, according to Tracka’s impact report.
The same report reveals that residents recounted how they had been swindled by individuals who fraudulently collected money, promising to bring them electricity, only to disappear without fulfilling their promises. Moreover, it shocked the community members when they discovered through a town hall meeting organized by Tracka, an initiative dedicated to empowering citizens, that a substation for their community had been included in the 2018 budget, of which they were previously unaware.
Tracka hosted a town hall meeting in the community where the villagers were educated about this provision and taught about budget processes to enable them to hold their representatives accountable. In an interactive session following the meeting, the villagers shared heart-wrenching stories of the hardships they had endured due to the absence of power, including the loss of loved ones and the collapse of businesses.
To shed light on the community’s neglect, Tracka took to social media and sent letters to various stakeholders, amplifying the community’s demand to be connected to the national grid. After months of relentless efforts, a glimmer of hope finally emerged – the community now reportedly enjoys a sparkling electricity supply.
“Za mu gan haske? meaning “We are going to see light?” were re-echoed by the children who have lived most of their lives in darkness asked rhetorically. To deliver the dividends of democracy, especially to people at the grassroots, an initiative like Tracka seems vital.
Data says Nigeria’s corruption lacuna is rife
Corruption in Nigeria has entrenched itself as an endemic challenge, particularly within the public sector. A 2020 report by Transparency International revealed that Nigeria ranks as the second most corrupt nation in the West African region.
This publication highlights the grave consequences of corruption, as it severely threatens the nation’s economic prosperity. In 2021 alone, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, disclosed that it had successfully recovered a staggering sum of N150 billion stolen from public coffers. Sadly, these funds were originally allocated for crucial developmental projects, particularly in rural areas.
Corruption remains an age-old and deep-rooted problem that urgently requires curbing to pave the way for societal development. Experts agree that the key lies in fostering accountability, potentially reducing corruption. When public officeholders face the risk of legal consequences, they are compelled to adhere to bureaucratic standards, thereby mitigating corrupt practices.
Desperate Struggles for Healthcare: A Community’s Fight for Proper Facilities
In Kaffe, a rural community situated in Gada Local Government, Sokoto, a tragic incident unfolded in 2017, when a pregnant woman in urgent need of medical attention was transferred to a different hospital due to the absence of a standard primary healthcare center in the area. She lost her life during the journey. Her story mirrors the countless maternal deaths that have occurred in the region, all stemming from this critical lack.
Unbeknownst to the community members, a substantial sum of N34 million had been allocated in the Federal Government budget to upgrade and equip the health center in Kaffe. It was not until Tracka visited the area in 2018 and shed light on the “pathetic situation” faced by the community through their social media platforms that the Sokoto State government responded positively, promising prompt action.
Before this intervention, residents of Kaffe resorted to sleeping under trees, with intravenous drips connected to branches, to receive treatment. The dilapidated structure of the old health center, coupled with insufficient beds and leaky roofs, left them with no alternative. Tracka’s intervention ‘forced’ the government to renovate the center and equip it with the necessary resources for quality healthcare delivery.
Tracka: Empowering Citizens for Transparent Governance
Harnessing the power of technology and open data research, Tracka addresses critical gaps in accountability across the country, including the diversion of public funds, misplaced priorities of elected representatives, and inadequate implementation of government projects in communities.
The organization’s approach is hands-on and community-focused. Tracka conducts field visits to rural communities nationwide, meticulously tracking projects outlined in the government budget. The findings are compiled into comprehensive documents that serve as a basis for engaging government agencies and lawmakers, calling for necessary amendments and corrective actions.
“We engage communities through town-hall meetings to actively involve them in the budgetary process. We also correspond with their representatives regarding abandoned projects,” explains Motoni Moses, the North-central Regional Coordinator of Tracka, in an interview with Social Voices.
Tracka’s ultimate goal is to democratize access to public finances, empowering Nigerian citizens to become advocates for improved service delivery and transparency. By expanding citizens’ understanding of the budget and raising awareness about government budgets and their implementation, Tracka strives to generate greater demand for comprehensive information among citizens.
In its pursuit of impact, Tracka goes the extra mile by providing contact details of relevant officials and facilitating direct communication between journalists, concerned individuals, and these officials for comments and clarifications. This proactive approach has empowered media professionals to conduct powerful investigations and highlight critical issues.
Since its establishment in July 2014 by Oluseun Oniginde and Joseph Agunbiade, Tracka has reached 967 communities, directly impacting the lives of over a million individuals.
How Possible Is Curbing a Corrupt-Rife Nigeria?
One of the primary obstacles to combating corruption is the lack of knowledge among citizens regarding budgetary allocations and expenditures. This information gap stems from a failure to scrutinize elected representatives effectively. Seyi Oyetunbi, a development expert at GovernMend, emphasizes that Tracka plays a crucial role in bridging this knowledge gap. By providing citizens with data on government projects in their localities, Tracka empowers residents to demand accountability from their representatives and engage with public officials directly.
Anthony Adejuwon, the accountability lead at Urban Alert, commends Tracka for promoting citizens’ inclusiveness in governance. Through their initiatives, Tracka trains local communities to actively engage with public officeholders, fostering a sense of ownership and participation in the decision-making process. This approach has the potential to shape the development trajectory of the country significantly.
“Tracka is mobilizing citizens to participate in accountability by training the local communities to engage public office holders themselves therefore their approach will shape the development of the country to a large extent,” he said.
Nankpak Cirfat, a communications associate at Connected Development, highlights Tracka’s focus on scrutinizing the gray areas of national expenditure. By shedding light on these critical aspects, Tracka cultivates a sense of belonging among citizens and stimulates increased political participation. Transparency becomes the cornerstone for societal progress, benefitting both the people who receive the dividends of democracy and the lawmakers who are held accountable for delivering essential services.
“The society will go a long way when there is transparency like what Tracka is doing, it’s a win-win for all: the people will get the dividends of democracy anywhere they’re while the lawmakers will also be able to deliver services to the people because they know there are watchdogs over their moves,” he told Social Voices.
Challenges Ahead for Tracka’s Accountability Efforts
Despite its commendable work in promoting transparency and accountability, Tracka faces several challenges in its mission to empower citizens and track government projects. One significant obstacle is the lack of cooperation from community stakeholders, which greatly hampers their outreach efforts.
Motoni, a representative of Tracka, explains that certain communities view Tracka as a threat, perceiving them as political witch hunters. This perception, particularly among loyalists to a particular political party, leads to disruptions or a lack of attention to Tracka’s programs, ultimately reducing their outreach effectiveness.
In addition, the prevailing insecurity and kidnapping issues in the country pose a significant challenge for Tracka’s tracking officers. Due to safety concerns, there are certain areas they cannot access, limiting their ability to track projects and engage with communities.
The issue of insecurity is not only a challenge for Tracka but also a broader concern for the country. Governance failures in addressing insecurity have resulted in the absence of Tracka’s network in certain states, such as Borno, where high levels of insecurity prevail. There are communities and local governments, particularly in the North, that is deemed unsafe to enter, further hindering Tracka’s efforts to promote transparency and citizen engagement in those areas.
By addressing issues of cooperation and security, Tracka aims to ensure that its valuable work can continue unhindered, empowering citizens and promoting accountability in Nigeria’s governance landscape.
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.