Open Govt Data and Citizen Engagement in Nigeria: The Journey So Far… By Abbas Inuwa Jnr
The system of Open Government Data (OGD) is evolving as a verifiable means of demanding transparency and accountability in governance. The civil society asks questions on their civil rights to be governed effectively and efficiently. This opens government books on budgetary incomes and expenditures, policy formulation and implementation in proportion to the yearnings and aspirations of citizens.
Open Government Data is the irrevocable release and authorize use and reuse of public sector information by all, either through technology or otherwise. In this space, the data is processed from closed to shared and then open. The concept systemically adopts Open Data, Open Society, Open Knowledge and Open Participation. It provides knowledge on how government is being managed, what information is in the public domain and how the society uses the information to hold government accountable and/or promote good governance.
The idea of open government has been embraced and implemented by many countries through policy formulations and transparency laws. The United States President, Barack Obama, introduces “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” which laid the foundation of good governance and citizen engagement in his administration. Nigeria is no difference, the country witnesses several calls and policy plans for open government and participation, of recent is the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology in conjunction with World Bank and Department For International Development (DFID) to design a comprehensive deliverable action plan on open government to fight administrative corruption in the country, increase public accountability and integrity as well as innovation in public service bodies, civil society organizations and small business enterprises to better take advantage of increasingly available government data. This initiative encourages searching and retrieving government data freely, providing feedback and information sharing through a consultative and all-inclusive platform opening up high value datasets across ministries, departments and agencies.
The Freedom of Information Act is an added and legislated document upholding open data in Nigeria, which can facilitate open government and end the shackle of good governance affected by impunity and corruption. Although the Open Data Development Initiative of the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology has taken the center stage, there is no veritable all-inclusive national portal for accessing government data. However, Nigeria has an offshore multilayered OGD portal launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the purpose of improving knowledge and disseminating information about the country. Users can access, analyze and share datasets ranging from economic data, development indices and socio-political data. The portal also enables visualization and analytic info-graphic presentation of data to the end user.
At State level, the government of Edo State has taken the lead in launching an Open Data Portal in 2013 to provide access to relevant, actionable and up-to-date State government data for use and reuse by civil society organizations, policy makers, business owners/investors, international organizations and researchers. The portal presents different datasets such as population data, environmental data, budget data, data on policy/project plans and implementation. These datasets are useful for business investors in making informed decisions to exploit opportunities for investment, and also for indigenes to engage the government on need responsive budget and projects.
The emergence of social media and civil society organizations like BudgIT and Orodata to demand for transparency and accountability in governance using civic technology explores the virgin area of citizen engagement to hold politicians/leaders accountable for delivering on allocated funds for all sectors of development. Therefore, OGD and citizen engagement are indisputable platforms for consultations with government and civil society organizations spurring positive and desirable effects for society at policy and implementation levels. Open Data does not only enhance transparency, but creates jobs, culture shift, healthy democracy, economic development, good healthcare and is a secret weapon to uncover the dirt in governance.
The impact of OGD can be maximized by involving all stakeholders and providing relevant and timely datasets with easy technological interface. However, despite the advantages of OGD, limitations and potential risks in national security, rights conflict and privacy data must be acknowledged.
Lastly, in the quest to rid the country of inglorious trends of corruption, Nigerians and Open Data enthusiasts look forward to a comprehensive National Open Government Data Portal with multifaceted and analytical tools of various datasets from economic, social, political, environmental, electoral, judicial and legislative/parliamentary data.
Abbas Inuwa Jnr writes from Kaduna and can be reached on twitter via @abinjnr