By Taiwo Fatola
Opeyemi Akindele, a student of Osun State University, Osogbo, has always seen the structure of the federal secretariat in Osun State but she didn’t know what it was until she stumbled on Eyemark mobile application in 2022. The federal secretariat structure is located along Ibokun Road, adjacent to Osun State University, Osogbo in Osun State.
“The gigantic structure is a common sight for anyone coming on campus but I didn’t know what it was, so in December, I came across the Eyemark app on social media. I downloaded and checked it. That was where I saw the building there. At first, I only noticed that the pictures looked familiar, it was later with the help of the inbuilt map of the app that I discovered the building is the federal secretariat located there.” Opeyemi Akindele said while describing how she came across and used the app for the first time.
President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Eyemark mobile application which also has a web version in 2022 to allow ordinary citizens to track, monitor, and evaluate Federal Government projects nationwide. Before the Eyemark application came into being, different governmental and non-governmental organizations have always embarked on physical monitoring and evaluation of these projects.
Checks on the application revealed that the Eyemark application enables users to monitor and evaluate government projects of interest to them. While reacting to the Ajaokuta – Kaduna – Kano Pipeline project, a user simply known as Kaska queried the description of the project when he wrote: “The project listed the phases involved, but did not clearly state what the project is about. What is the pipeline project about? That was not defined (sic).”
Another user, known as Kabir seemed concerned about the progress of the work being done, saying the progress was slow. “But the work suppose to reach 60-70% by now (sic),” he said. It had only been 30% completed at the time.
THE NEED FOR TRACKING
Government projects which come under three broad divisions – Ecological, Constituency, and Capital projects gulp up to 40% of the annual budget but the majority of these projects have always been abandoned and left to rot across the country.
The report of a 2011 Project Audit Commission set up by the federal government led by then-President Goodluck Jonathan indicated that there were about 11,886 abandoned projects valued at about N15 trillion across the country. In 2019, Tracka, a project tracking tool of budgIT estimated that there are over 2000 abandoned projects across the country over the last 10 years.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in its report on executive project tracking exercises (phase iv) released in June 2022, revealed different sharp practices while highlighting its findings from the tracking exercise.
A case of deliberate refusal to execute the project was discovered where the report read: “It was discovered in a few situations that contractors would be awarded contracts for projects, funds paid to them but would deliberately refuse to execute the projects.
“An instance is a project for the construction of Dawaki Dam in Kanke LGA of Plateau State awarded for N221 million by the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority (LBRBDA). The contractor was paid N55 million but refused to even visit the project site much less construct the dam three years thereafter. Interestingly, this amount was paid in tranches between 2019 and 2021 without any work being done at all,” the report revealed.
HOW EYEMARK WORKS
When the annual budget is approved, the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning – where Eyemark is domiciled – uploads information about projects from the budget to the platform. After the initial upload of basic information such as the project title, code, and allocated funds, Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) are urged to also upload additional details related to the projects, such as the project schedule (start and expected completion dates) and the contractors involved.
The mobile application allows users to discover, monitor, and evaluate projects. Users can also ‘eyemark’ projects so they can keep tabs on the latest developments regarding such projects, they can also evaluate a project by posting a ‘review’. From the review, the system automatically generates a sentiment that can be positive, negative, or neutral. Users can thumb up or thumb down the review of one another.
While there are various filter options for projects suggestion, the mobile application also uses device Global Positioning System (GPS) to suggest projects that are closer to users, this was what helped Opeyemi Akindele recognise the federal secretariat building. On the page of each project, information including location, code, status, total cost, timeline, start date, end date, total amount appropriated, amount spent so far, contractor and supervising Ministries Departments & Agencies are listed.
While non-registered users can view information about projects and reviews, only registered users can post reviews and also ‘eyemark’ projects. While the web version allows users to comment or reply to comments from other users, the app does not allow it. The web version also shows the number of times a page has been visited, this is not available on the mobile application.
Abass Adesola, a Product Manager and user of Eyemark, expressed satisfaction with his experience of the platform describing it as awesome. “From the perspective of a Product Manager, I can give the interface and experience 9 out of 10. I am able to see all government projects, I can see all the required information about a project, the contractors, the amount, and the time frame. I like the navigation methods too, easy to navigate. All these are what is required when you truly want to measure the essence of the platform, which is for accountability.” Adesola stated in a chat with this reporter.
He added that he could navigate easily between projects around him and special projects. When asked if he was satisfied with the work done on the projects, he said he does not live close to the location of any of the projects but from online tracking and events around them, he believed the projects were going on well. A check on Adesola’s profile on the platform shows that he has ‘eyemarked’ 22 projects and posted one review on the recently completed Second Niger Bridge.
FINANCE MINISTRY RESPONSIVE
The Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning periodically provides updates on monitoring and evaluation exercises carried out on projects across the country. Such update was provided in the case of the federal secretariat under construction in some States including Osun State where the Ministry posted: “These are some of the results of the monitoring and evaluation exercise done on Construction Of Federal Secretariats In Anambra, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Osun, Zamfara States before the takeoff of Eyemark.”
The Ministry also respondes to reviews and comments of users. In an instance, the Ministry asked one Otite Akpofure to reframe his comment since it wasn’t clear after he commented on the ‘provision of transportation and modular equipment for simple mining exploration across Nasarawa south senatorial district Nasarawa state’. Akpofure had said: “The systems related to mining systems are port please for this app development can we get updates on project reviews taken too at least to show some reviews about projects being issued have been done.”
Ijeoma Okereke, the program officer of UDEME accountability program of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) described the application as a welcome development and expressed optimism that it will be a useful tool for her organization as well. She expressed satisfaction as the government is now taking steps at ensuring that there is value for every fund disbursed for project implementation by developing in-house monitoring and evaluation tools.
While commenting on the suitability of the app for rural dwellers, she advocates for simplification of the app by the provision of a feasible alternative for people in such areas. “What should be done right now is to simplify this app, for those without phones, create a central physical place where they can go and see projects for them and status and know what to do if these projects are not implemented and who they can report it to.” She said.
She added that in a bid to ensure the credibility of the app, the government can collaborate with Civil Society Organisations to continuously monitor the projects while the government monitoring and evaluation departments are performing their jobs. “Independent monitoring by CSOs and the media is an effective way of ensuring that the app performs the function it was created for – which is for the purpose of accountability and transparency.” She stated.
NOT FREE FROM FLAWS
In his reaction to the app, Abubakar Abdulrasheed, a project tracker who is also familiar with the app expressed displeasure over missing projects on the app. “The app is not effective to track projects especially those situated in rural areas. Just a few projects are updated on the app. I’ve checked many projects on the app but to my surprise, I didn’t find them. For a poorly executed constituency project of construction of a block of 3 classrooms in Paikoro, Niger State which I visited today, the project wasn’t on the app yet it was poorly executed and didn’t meet standard, and no one shows concern.”
He decried incomplete details of most of the projects on the application while also adding that the impact of the app may be very low if projects in rural areas are not uploaded, stressing that such projects are usually used as conduits for embezzling public funds. “To demand transparency and accountability, all types of federal government projects must be uploaded and updated on the app with detailed information, description, and pictures of the progress of work done from the project sites.” He concluded.
While responding to questions on how often the platform is updated, a staffer of Eyemark, simply identified as Olaoluwa said Eyemark uses a decentralised approach for data collection, involving critical stakeholders like MDAs, contractors, CSOs, and most importantly, the citizens. The Eyemark staffer added that the platform is updated as frequently as the stakeholders provide information.
Olaoluwa mentioned that robust measures are in place to ensure the accuracy of the information on the platform. “Firstly, we geotag images to determine their location, allowing us to prioritise live location images over others. Secondly, we use the constructive nature of reviews, upvotes, and downvotes to evaluate and rank the reviews on the platform. Lastly, as Eyemark is a decentralised platform, any stakeholder can question or challenge any false or misleading information that is published by other stakeholders,” he added as part of the ways by which the accuracy of information on the platform is being ensured.
“Eyemark promotes transparency and accountability by making all projects and reviews on the platform accessible to everyone. This allows users to monitor activities related to the projects and raise any concerns with the appropriate parties. MDAs also receive notifications of any queries, enabling them to initiate investigations,” Olaoluwa said while responding comments on how the reviews from users are being used to ensure transparency and accountability in public procurement process.
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.