15 Dec 2016

In Conversation with Hamzat Lawal

Citizen-led Accountability

What kind of work do you do?
We empower marginalized communities through access to information by getting them aware and more informed about government policies and budget. We see a gap between the government and the people and work to breach the gap. Though the work is not easy or fun, we take the risk and make sure we get government working for the people it is supposed to work for. Most of our projects and campaigns are geared towards the people who it is meant to impact directly at the grassroots. 
What inspires your work?
Hamzat Lawal
The people and environment is the inspiration; that smile on the little children in Bagega, the happiness on the face of the women in Shikira, the sign of relief by the stakeholders in Gutsura. All of these feelings of humanity inspire my work. It gives me more strength to move on. I feel at ease seeing people taking responsibilities of their own lives, seeing a population that is well-informed, and citizens that get the government working for them. 
How can citizen-led accountability be promoted in the community?
Information is the most important thing and that is why we try as much as possible to get the people informed; we build their capacity and we let them understand that the government is meant to work for them. We get them to be active and informed citizens; this is important in citizen-lead accountability. Our process of engaging the communities has always been the same, we find the data first by analyzing the budget, we go to the community for ground-truthing, we hold a stakeholders town hall meeting with the community, we get their voices, and we amplify it using all media available to us. And we get the government to act on our facts on the ground. As at this moment we are working on domesticating the Follow the Money model so it can be used by every community in Nigeria and beyond. We envision a community accountability based movement and we see it happening across the African continent.  
Among the citizens, whose responsibility is it to lead such efforts?
This is like asking, "Amongst citizens, who is to drink water". No one tells us to lead such initiatives right from the start. We understand there is a gap and we go ahead to fill it. Until we all start to take a lead in the country, our dream of a working society will just be a mirage. So the answer is we all have to take the lead since it all affects us, directly or indirectly.  
What mechanisms are there to encourage people to demand accountability from the state?
Just as said earlier, what we discovered was that there is no clear definition or mechanism of how citizens can demand accountability. There is a wide level of disconnect from the people to the government, we believe the capacity of the people must be build so they will be able to demand for accountability in governance. Freedom of Information Act is a very good mechanism but not many know of the existence of such an act and most government MDAs do not respect it. By showing the people how, then accountability will be in the citizens’ dictionary.
Are people aware of these mechanisms?
No, very few people are aware of it and some that are aware of it are not even using it. It boils down to awareness, advocacy and human capacity building which is the most essential mechanism.  
What is the role(s) of youth in keeping the government accountable?
It is the future of the youth that is been toyed with. With more than 60% of Nigerians been young people, I believe youth should be a voice, they should be proactive, they should ask more right questions and they should take their future into their hands by demanding accountability from the government. If youth decide not to be proactive and they are docile, what we have been experiencing in the past is what will still be happening. There is an urgent call to action for the youth to be involved in government and governance processes.
In the 2030 Development Agenda, how can we ensure that resources are not misappropriated in the course of implementing the SDGs?
There is need for citizens to be active, they should be interested in what the government is budgeting for them and they should see themselves as the government and start by engaging the government. Citizens need to be vigilant and that is the only way to avoid misappropriation of SDGs’ resources.
Data is important for accountability; how can open data among African governments be achieved?
Most of the countries in Africa have a law in place for keeping of public records only that they records are not yet public. In Nigeria for example we have FOI to request for information from the government, we have the National Bureau of Statistics which is the custodian of data but the question is, do they have the capacity to enforce the ministries, department and agencies to publish their data, do they have the platform which these government institutions can publicly publish their data? The answer to most of these question is no. Until this is addressed, open data will just be a dictionary word.
Last remarks:
Be active and vigilance, you are the government and it is your resources, so Follow the Money and take action.
Hamzat Lawal is the Chief Executive Connected Development (CODE) and tweets at @HamzyCODE

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