By Oludotun Babayemi and Hamzat Lawal.
When government spending reaches communities that it is meant for, there would not be much need for foreign aid in some developing countries…children will receive vaccination, disease will be eradicated, there will be increase in yield on crops, entrepreneurs will have “direct access” to funds, trade will go up while aid will go down!
In Nigeria alone, about $6.5 trillion worth of foreign aid has been received between 2000 and 2012, while the government of the country, by the end of 2013 would have spent about $500 million [80 trillion Naira] since 2005. So what? The country still ranks 153 among 170 countries in the recent Human Development Index and 139 among about 160 countries on the Transparency Corruption Index. Where did all the money go?
In the dry season of 2010, an unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State, northern Nigeria. More than 2,000 children were severely poisoned and an estimated 400 children died as a result of lead absorption associated with artisanal gold mining/processing in residential compounds in a number of remote villages. Several international organizations including World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and UNICEF, intervenes in providing emergency medical, environmental, technical and public health responses. However, there was one village left out in the intervention in 2010 – Bagega. The total population of Bagega was about 7,323 according to the last census in Nigeria. Consequently, about 1,500 children in Bagega have to wait!
Since 2010, children were dying in Bagega, because the community could not be cleaned up from lead contamination. “ So many times we have heard funds have been made available but we didn’t see anyone to come clean up our village or treat our dying children” Said Amina. Every time the government says they have made funds available for the clean up, it would not reach Bagega! Thus the Follow The Money team intervened in mid 2012.
Critical to our success was the availability of a champion within the Zamfara state government. A champion in the government is critical to the success and stability of advocacy and tracking of government funding. Look for them, at times they are hidden! But, you must own your strategy, not the champion or the government! We went into Bagega to capture the voice of the people and take it global, which never happened in 2010. We used traditional and new media to help amplify the voice of the people of Bagega and Zamfara State.
In most developing countries, the online compliments the offline. Do not rely only on online communications and advocacy. Within local stakeholders, we had to share information such as budgets, data and maps and give feedback. Proposed budgets for the cleanup of Bagega were shared with the local community member and focus groups, especially in the language they could understand. In January 2013, the voices of the people of Bagega had reached about 1 million people, and the story had been told by about 50 media organizations. The media is a great mouth piece for the people, especially where ethics is upheld. By the end of January, 2013 the federal government of Nigeria released about $5.3 million for the cleanup of Bagega from the Ecological Funds through the Ministry of Finance.
So what? The release of funds has happened several times, but this time we wanted it to work. We created partnerships within a stakeholders meeting that lasted for a year, with the whole essence of getting updates on how funds are used, corroborating the stories with what we see in the community. Also helpful, was the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 in Nigeria, which we had to refer to several times to request for information from government ministries concerned.
By March, 2013, the cleanup of Bagega started, and simultaneously, the screening and treatment of hundreds of children commenced. In July 2013, the remediation of Bagega ended, and about 981 children in Bagega have been screened since April 22, with 941 on track for admission into the treatment program and another 181 already undergoing chelation therapy.
Oludotun Babayemi (@dotunbabayemi) is the co-creator of Follow the Money, Nigeria; a CrisisMapper and Sprout Pearson Fellow working on monitoring and evaluation systems [such as the Education Budget Tracker and Oil Spill Monitor]. Hamzat Lawal (@hamzy12) is the co-creator of Follow the Money, Nigeria, an executive with the International Center for Energy, Environment and Development. He is the Founder of the Nigeria Youth Climate Action Network and the Communications Officer with the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change.