The world today is referred to as an information age, some call it a digital age to some it’s a social media age. The truth still remains that there is little or nothing that can be be done in this modern time without data, information and communication. However, data processing has remained a key challenge to effective communication and adequate or substantial service delivery in Nigeria.
One may wonder if we actually have the culture of data collection and storage in Nigeria and if we do, how available are the data to the general public. In cases where the are available to the public, how easily can they be accessed? On several occasions, I have witnessed lumps of files stacked at different corners in Ministries and government offices without any proper attention. This really has become an eyesore and more especially setback in the provision of public services.
Against this backdrop, I was invited to a two-day workshop in Lagos, organized by BudgIT on Creative Communication and Budget Analysis. BudgIT is a civic organization that applies technology to intersect citizen engagement with institutional improvement, to facilitate societal change. A pioneer in the field of social advocacy melded with technology, BudgIT uses an array of tech tools to simplify the budget and matters of public spending for citizens, with the primary aim of raising standard of transparency and accountability in government.
It’s on this premise that the training workshop started, at exactly 10 am, with a brief introduction by Ayomide Faleye, Project Officer and Researcher with BudgIT. Ayomide and her team has been instrumental to the success of these epoch making workshop. Participants took turns to introduce themselves.
We started the business of the day with a phenomenal presentation from one of BudgIT’s Lead Researchers and Analysts, Atiku Samuel. In a space of hours, he took us through the budget processes in Nigeria. The budget components, legal framework, budget formation and budget cycle. He went further to point out the need for effective monitoring and evaluation during the implementation of budget. Amongst the list of those concerned to monitor budget implementation are Civil Society Organizations, citizens, organized private sector, international agencies etc. This is key towards ensuring transparency and accountability and enthroning service delivery. Immediately after the first presentation, we went on a tea break. I had the rare privilege to network amongst other CSOs present.
In another presentation, Olaniyi Olaleye, a Researcher and Analyst with BudgIT, took his time to take us through the use the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for accountability. In his presentation he laid emphasis on the need to demand information from government institutions leveraging on the FOI Act. “it’s your responsibility to pay for the delivery of the letter and logistics,” he said, “But you are not to pay for the information.”
He went further to add that in writing FOI letters, it’s imperative you know the information you wish to obtain, identify the MDA in charge of the information you are seeking, put the recipient’s address, date and reference number(to track letter), address the letter to the officer in charge of releasing such information, most importantly, title the letter as ‘Freedom of Information Request” and make your request for information in accordance with the FOI Act.
He emphasized on the need to be very specific in your request, and not being compelled to give reasons why you need the information. “Ensure your letter is accompanied with an acknowledgment copy for the recipient to sign”, he emphasized. This is your proof of receipt.
Other resource persons were Abel Akeni, who delivered a presentation on the art of storytelling with data. He pointed out how pressing it is to effectively master the art of storytelling, more especially those of us in the civil society space. For a story to be complete, it must be informative, entertaining, relatable, inspiring, and actionable. He took time to highlight the ingredients of a good story, which are quality data, objectivity, storyboarding, narrative structure and good visuals. Medium of storytelling was not left out amongst other things.
Richard Ofunrein and Kehinde Agbaje took turns to explain data visualization using different applications and tools. Data visualization is important to draw attention to the most important, relevant information. It also facilitates interpretation and understanding of something that may not be obvious or clear. In addition, it summarizes information for situations that need easy at a glance presentation and highlights supporting facts and evidence needed to spur decisions and motivate action.
For Basic Rights Watch, this training is apt and coming at the right time. We will step down this training for our volunteers in Tertiary Education Institutions for effective data presentation and communication. Attending this workshop has motivated me into being more creative in simplifying data for easy understanding at a glance and it met my expectations. I commend BudgIT for this bold step in the right direction and I look forward to more exciting workshops as this.
Austin Ekwujuru is the Chief Executive Officer of Basic Rights Watch. He is a human rights activist, a public speaker and at best spends most of his time reading and researching. Follow him @austinchinonye1, contact him at email@example.com