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One year after #EndSARS, the Nigerian system is still ‘begging’ for transparency, accountability

By Joel Popoola
24 October 2021   |   10:03 pm
In October 2020, the eyes of the World were on Nigeria as the #EndSARS protests – the largest anti-government protests in a generation – took on corrupt elites. The demonstrations began as a movement against police brutality but rapidly snowballed into wider calls for government reforms – in particular, greater accountability. If nothing else, the…

A Nigerian man based in South Africa holds a poster reading “#EndSARSNow” during a protest outside their embassy in Pretoria on October 21, 2020 in solidarity with Nigerian youth who are demanding an end to police brutality in the form of The Nigerian Police Force Unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

In October 2020, the eyes of the World were on Nigeria as the #EndSARS protests – the largest anti-government protests in a generation – took on corrupt elites.

The demonstrations began as a movement against police brutality but rapidly snowballed into wider calls for government reforms – in particular, greater accountability.

If nothing else, the protests did succeed in ending SARS, the widely-loathed police unit.

But in October 2021, one calendar year after, what else has changed?

But this past week, The Economist – perhaps the World’s most influential current affairs publication – called Nigeria “ungovernable… the crime scene at the heart of Africa”.

It writes: “Parts of it are thriving, especially in the south-west. Lagos, the commercial capital (which) is home to vigorous banks, a hip technology scene and a flourishing film industry”.

But overall, the Economist finds the condition of Nigeria to be at “its worst since the civil war” with President Muhammadu Buhari accused of “allowing the rot to deepen”.

More striking criticism came closer to home, from the Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity’s new Transparency and Integrity Index.

The Index aims to establish government agencies, public bodies and state and local government’s performance when it comes to putting vital information relating to good governance into the public domain.

The Abuja-based non-governmental organisation ranked every one of Nigeria’s 475 public bodies and institutions for transparency and found them to be performing “abysmally”.

In the Index, agencies are scored from 0-100, with agencies scoring 0-44 ranked “very poor”.

Every organisation is scored less than 40 – with the Family Homes Fund ranked Nigeria’s most transparent public body with a score of just 34.9.

The Nigerian Police Force finds itself down in 135th place, with a score of just 13.

Although the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria is top rated for Budget and Audit Reporting, its score of 40 still rates it as “very poor”.

You read that correctly, our official Financial Reporting body is rated “very poor” at financial reporting! And still better than anyone else!

In terms of government ministries, the Department of Aviation is rated the best –albeit with a “Very poor” score of 23.35 – the Ministry of the Interior is the worst, scoring just 7.14.

In terms of political bodies, 24 out of our 36 state governments record the lowest possible rating – with Kaduna ranked best, and Zamfara ranked worst.

A number of agencies are even described as “completely non-compliant”.

The group’s executive director, Umar Yakubu, stated that the index is designed to be “our own way of supporting the government in doing the right thing.”

At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we want to do the same thing.

It is individual politicians who must turn this miserable tide, by making themselves true role models for transparency.

We have created a free mobile app called Rate Your Leader to enable them to deliver maximum transparency to their voters.

Rate Your Leader is a direct line to verified local voters, making politicians accessible and transparent enough to answer any question the people who elect them have, and giving them the platform to make vital information immediately available and accessible.

Local leaders also need to explain themselves better. The App also puts local officials in direct person-to-person contact with the people they serve, allowing voters to contact them, and helping politicians get better insight into the needs and wishes of the people who elect them.

If politicians using Rate Your Leader are responsive, accessible and authoritative, and explain the decisions they are taking clearly and satisfactorily, their voters can give them a positive rating. If people see that neighbours who have interacted with their local politicians have all rated them highly, that builds trust in our leaders. And that in turn builds trust in our system.

Have things changed since #EndSARS? Not enough. But that doesn’t mean they can’t.

A year ago our young people demonstrated to us their bravery, energy and imagination. The fate of Nigeria’s political system may well depend on whether they can repeat that achievement in a more formal political setting.

Campaigns like ours and technologies like Rate Your Leader are designed to facilitate that change.

With more Nigerians owning a smartphone than PVC, the power to make that change is literally in our hands – thanks to the very technology scene The Economist cites as one of our nation’s remaining strengths.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. Connect with Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola