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Budget oversight and accountability in Nigeria: what incentivises digital and non-digital citizens to engage?

Date added: August 25, 2017

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Opening up the budgets of economies such as Nigeria’s continues to be a challenge, and most citizens remain in the dark on how the budget is formulated and executed. One obstacle is citizens’ lack of access to information on budgeted projects within their communities; while a budget containing lots of technical jargon means that most Nigerians are unable to understand the budget and are, therefore, limited in their ability to monitor its progress.

As a pioneer in the field of social advocacy combined with technology, BudgIT, a social advocacy organisation in Nigeria, aims to simplify the topic of public spending for citizens with the aim of increasing transparency and accountability in government. Through its platform, Tracka, BudgIT works to ensure the completion of projects. Through citizen groups, it also tests the links between fiscal transparency, citizens’ and institutional engagement with the legislature to demand accountability, and the responsiveness of public offices in service delivery.

This practice paper reports on practitioner research conducted by BudgIT, and documents a reflective conversation on the implications of its findings for future efforts to improve accountability in Nigeria.. It aims to discover if access to information leads to empowerment, as well as demands for accountability; and whether demands for accountability necessarily lead to the greater responsiveness of public institutions. BudgIT designed a research project that focused on two groups of citizens: those with access to digital information in urban areas or ‘digital citizens’; and those without access to digital tools – usually rural-based with relatively low levels of education – or ‘non-digital citizens’. This was based on the belief that every citizen – irrespective of their literacy level – has a right to know how public funds are spent.

Based on its experience, research and participants’ replies in the surveys, BudgIT confirmed that:

  • simplified budget information does incentivise citizens with varying levels of literacy and across different groups to engage with public finance (particularly budget monitoring)
  • this newfound interest led to increased action from citizens in tracking projects costed within the budget and demanding accountability
  • however, BudgIT observed more enthusiasm and engagement amongst non-digital citzens at the grassroots level, than among digital citizens
  • greater transparency and citizen access to data do not automatically lead to greater accountability. Instead, there have to be incentives for officials to prioritise funding for public projects and to respond to queries in a timely manner.
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