CODE: Empowering Citizens to Fight Corruption in Nigeria

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ABUJA, Nigeria — In 2012, Connected Development (CODE) launched its initiative Follow the Money to fight corruption in Nigeria by tracking government and foreign aid spending in rural communities. The grassroots organization collects information from their network of citizens and publicizes its findings in order to advance transparency and accountability.

Corruption has encumbered the West African country for decades. In the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 2016, measuring how much corruption in the public sector is perceived by the public, Nigeria was ranked 136 of 176 countries.

Corruption affects Nigerian society in various ways. The amount of money invested in health and education among others is diverted, hindering development. Foreign businesses are discouraged from investing in the country’s economy. The Nigerian politician and human rights activist Kayode Oladele emphasizes how corruption promotes poverty and “creates the condition for political instability”. Additionally, he explains that corrupt companies who bypass regulations in order to build cause the deterioration and collapse of buildings.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who came into office in 2015, pledged to eradicate corruption. In the same year, he started an extensive campaign to fight corruption in Nigeria. Public projects were paused to review contracts, bank accounts of different government agencies were merged to enable better control of money flows and criminal inquiries into corruption and money laundering processes were launched.

So far, the campaign’s success has been limited. According to the Business Anti-Corruption Portal, the legal framework created to fight corruption in Nigeria is strong, but the legislation’s enforcement remains weak in 2017: “Gifts, bribery and facilitation payments are the norm.”

Buhari was criticized for focusing his anti-corruption efforts on members of the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, while protecting corrupt members of his own party, the All Progressives Congress. Additionally, the president himself has been reported in 2016, less than a year after his inauguration, for misuse of foreign aid money from the U.K. to finance the persecution of his political enemies.

Nigeria receives large amounts of foreign aid, including $693.85 million from the U.S. in 2016. The majority was intended to fight the terrorist group Boko Haram. But due to corruption, the aid is often not allocated toward its intended purposes.

CODE’s Follow the Money initiative aims to increase transparency of government and foreign aid spending and hold the government accountable to adhere to their promises. “When the government promises clean drinking water, we have to check if there are wells built at all,” CODE chief executive Hamzat Lawal said in an interview with the German magazine Taz. To collect this information, Follow the Money uses digital technology and a network of local citizens in rural areas.

Citizens can request investigations into rural projects where they see the need. Via WhatsApp, people even from remote areas can contribute reports and photos. Follow the Money collects data and tracks the various projects and if the money actually reaches the promised communities. The findings are then published on the organization’s website, informing the public, politicians and international organizations alike. When projects are not completed as promised, CODE supports advocacy campaigns in the local communities.

In 2014, CODE revealed that the Nigerian government fell short of its pledge to provide medical help to children affected by lead poisoning in the Zamfara state. The Follow the Money campaign pressured the government to adhere to its promises. The organization chalked up another success in 2016 when its month-long campaign in Jigawa finally led to the building of a promised water facility.

Starting in 2017, CODE secured a $450,000 grant from the Omidyar Network over three years for its “truly unique” model. Follow the Money was also honored with the ONE Africa 2016 best initiative for achieving sustainable development goals, receiving $100,000. This international financial support will help CODE to upscale its efforts to fight corruption in Nigeria by, to cite Lawal, “empowering [marginalized communities]to stand up and hold their leaders accountable”.

Lena Riebl

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Lena Riebl

Lena is from Leipzig, Germany, and is currently an exchange student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Her academic interests include American Studies, history and international politics. Lena is a soup enthusiast: if she could only eat one food for the rest of her life, it would be potato soup!

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