Monday, December 2, 2013


Today, not only can you donate cash to support those affected by disasters, you can also donate a few minutes of your time to support the relief efforts on the ground thanks to new humanitarian technologies and platforms orchestrated by a network which brings together a diverse set of individuals from the humanitarian, development, human rights, policy, technology, and academic communities.

This network catalyzes communication and collaboration between a wide range of different communities with the purpose of advancing the study and application of crisis mapping worldwide. Popularly known as the International Conference of Crisis Mappers [ICCM], it once again brought hundreds of humanitarians together at the United Nations Office in Nairobi [UNON] on November 18 – 22, 2013 discussing and plotting ideas for the future of humanitarian response in a conference tagged “Humanitarian Technologies – In and Out of Africa”.

The Crisis Mappers network was launched in October 2009 at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) in Cleveland, Ohio. These annual conferences facilitate collective engagement and dialogue that helps construct the boundaries of this emergent new discipline. At the conference, participants also brainstorm how to solve real problems and initiate projects that help advance this new field.

Throughout the year, the network facilitates continuing virtual interaction among its members.Participants engage through webcasts, create and browse profiles, email their needs through the dedicated mailing list, write blogs, and share other announcements with the group. “We in the CrisisMappers community have the luxury of having learned a lot about digital humanitarian response since the Haiti Earthquake; we have learned important lessons about data privacy and protection, codes of conduct, the critical information needs of humanitarian organizations and disaster-affected populations, standardizing operating procedures, and so on” said Patrick Meier, the co-founder of the Network, in his keynote welcome address.

This year, the ICCM started with a preconference site visit to SiSi ni Amani and Spatial Collective, which allowed participants to observe first-hand how GIS, mobile technology and communication projects operate in informal settlements, covering a wide range of topics that include governance, civic education and peace building. As learning as become part of the ICCM, the second day was observed at the iHub, where different kinds of training were observed throughout the day. Facilitators from ESRI, Open Street Maps, MapBox, CaerusGeo, Ushahidi took participants through creating maps using the different platforms, and likewise lessons learnt from various initiatives that have been used on the platform. The short messaging service [SMS] and mobile security training stream was anchored by Frontline SMS and Tactical Technology Collective, showing how humanitarians have been deploying the platform to create social change and the security implications. The team from Open Knowledge Foundation [OKF] was able to curate their school of data training with some participants, while the knowledge stream was lead by Internews.
Angela Oduor leading the Mapping Stream session at the iHub 
On November 20, 2013 the main conference started at the UNON, Gigiri with the traditional ICCM Ignite talks showcasing great digital humanitarian works, forward – thinking concept and ideas, with recent research and findings within the network. This was followed by a panel that led the discussion mixed with a reflection on the Westgate Mall attack in September in Nairobi. Philip Ogola of the Red Cross in Kenya confirmed that the social media played a big role in getting situation awareness during crisis; Angela Oduor of Ushahidi, a non government technology outfit in Kenya showcased how the ushahidi platform was used in reaching out to a number of families during the siege. As technology is becoming the future to response, IBM’s Charity Wayua discussed how technology will continue to be deployed in response to siege such as that of the Westgate. At the end of the discussion, it was noted that technology played a big role in creating situation awareness during the Westgate attack, nevertheless co-ordination using this technology still remains a challenge, which in the near future will be tackled.
ICCM 2013 participants at the UNON conference room
As part of the day’s event, the tech fair became a side attraction at the conference room lounge. The fair brought together technology tools and events that have or will shape humanitarian response. Presentations at the fair included the Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response by the Qatar Computing Research Institute; NGO Aid Map by Interaction; location-based web and mobile software by Azavea; The Walk to Mali project by Earth Hour Nigeria; Mobile data collection in Somalia by mFieldwork; Security issues for everyday digital by Tactical Technology Collective and ESRI showcasing its various GIS platforms. The day went into a closing session with UNOCHA’s Information Management officer – Andrej Verity giving the keynote of the conference, live via Skype from the Philippines. He highlighted the importance of the work of digital humanitarians in helping first responders on the ground, especially since the beginning of the devastating 300km/hr typhoon Yolanda that struck the Philippines. “We have witnessed a paradigm in the way humanitarians all around the world now respond to crisis and disasters since 2009 till this present moment, just this morning, the head of OCHA –Valerie Amos, has been presented verified situation updates of the Philippines, this data, gathered by the various digital humanitarians over the past few weeks will help hasten how our responders on the ground respond to needs of the people in the Philippines” said Andrej

The following day witnessed roundtable sessions about Big data with Anahi Ayala of Internews reiterating that Big data or data becomes useless if the people cannot make use of it, Emmanuel Letouze of the University of California affirmed that Big data has no half life, and remain available while Jon Gosier advised that leveraging on Big data is important especially if an organization can define what is willing to do with it. Another session discussed CrisisMapping for Conflict Management with Sisi ni Amani’s Rachael Brown sharing how they have combined mobile technologies with community engagement in creating conflict situation awareness in Kenya, while Peter Nwamachi from the Kenya’s government steering committee on peace building and conflict management corroborated the importance of collaborating with Sisi ni Amani to respond and build peace among communities. Helena Puig shared lessons learnt from using crisismapping for peace building in several developing countries. Analyzing information from Hard-to-Access areas, the third and last session for the day saw Christophe Billen of the People’s Intelligence challenging the crisismapping community to be cautious of information that is been put up in the public domain, while Nat Walker of the Liberia Early Warning group mentioned the importance of testing different tools and community engagement in providing early warnings to government institutions in Liberia.

The last day of the conference were dedicated to self organized sessions by USAID, Google, Openstreetmap, Humanitarian Innovation Fund; United State, State Department; OKF; ICT for Justice. It witnessed an amalgamation of ideas in improving workflows for different organization, mapping party for the Philippines and Central African Republic, and the importance of Open data, Big data in Crisis mapping.

Participants at the Digital Humanitarian Summit
ICCM over the years have witnessed the emergence of the Digital Humanitarian Network [DHN] which is a network that coordinates different organization that help responds to disasters, and also connect their output in meeting the needs of the traditional first responders, humanitarian organizations on the ground. The DHN had its 2 day summit at the 88mph on Ngong Road, also in Nairobi. Organizations present at the summit included Geeks Without Bounds, GISCorps, Stand By Task Force [SBTF], UNOCHA, Google, Humanitarian Openstreetmap (HOTOSM), Connected Development [CODE], Red Cross Kenya, Crisis Cleanup, Save the Children Kenya and a list of others. The summit allows for a reflection on the activation and workflow of all the DHN and also external admissions into the network. The summit ended with the clear roles for specific workflow for different member organization, the start of local physical meet ups, new volunteer engagement workflows and new mechanisms in admitting prospective members.

In developed and developing countries, people are connecting through technology at an accelerating pace, with technologies that have more computing power than NASA used to send a man to the moon. Leveraging on these technologies, this new space called “CrisisMappers” continue to evolve and increasingly informing the world, thus making connected self reliant communities to affect the delivery of humanitarian aid. Overtime, this space present a fundamental shift in how we can respond to disaster risk management programs and intervene in disaster situations especially in Nigeria, and the West African region that has experienced more disasters in recent times. Traditional disaster management organizations have started embracing these changes and are reorienting their approaches around the essential objective of helping people to help themselves – Our disaster management organizations too should take a cue from this community as it holds great promise for the future, even as the space recognizes its pitfalls and the fact that progress has not always been smooth – a challenge that will be figured out during the ICCM 2014 in the New York City!  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), is carried out by an estimated number of 15 million miners, provides an approximate 100 million people with a living, and accounts for about 15% of the worldwide primary gold production. About half of the world’s estimated 30 million ASM miners are dedicated to gold extraction.

The number of people involved in ASM in general has risen dramatically during the last years, with Nigeria contributing between 50,000 to 150,000 man power to this sector, and ASM is often referred to as a new “phenomenon” and alleged “problem”. ASM is however as old as human civilization and only recently, during the first half of the past century, the technological divide between large and small scale mining occurred. Global awareness about the importance and extension of this sector is rising and focusing on social and environmental responsibility.
Artisanal Small Scale Miners at Sunke Zamfara Nigeria

 In Zamfara, ASM is a spontaneous self-organizing social system while industrial mining is planned and centrally coordinated. Artisanal miners engage in mining to earn a living, while industrial mining is driven by corporate economic considerations. Miners focus on industrially not economic small high-grade mineral deposits in ‘open access’ condition, and employ a ‘common pool resources’ management approach. Truth be told, ASM is an important source of local income and often drives local development. Low technologic levels, at the budget of rural communities, have however had serious consequences on health, safety and environment in Zamfara. A griming example is the lead poisoning epidemic that caused the death of 400 children in seven artisanal gold mining communities in Zamfara during the hazy weather of 2010.
Conducting a preliminary Baseline Study of ASMs in Zamfara
In Zamfara, the contamination of compounds with high lead tailings is quite alarming, and calls for urgent attention. In countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, they have succeeded in stopping the use of mercury, a more potent and deadly heavy metal than lead. The widespread use of mercury is a matter of global concern, while Zamfara still struggles with lead extermination, how to encourage Artisanal miners to stop the use of mercury still remains a big task. Global mercury emissions from gold ASM are currently estimated in the range of 1000 tons per year, with Nigeria contributing about 10 to 25 tons. Only half a decade ago, in 2005, estimations were still in the range of 320 tons or 17 per cent of anthropogenic mercury emissions. Under current conditions, it is reasonable to expect this trend to continue in the coming years.

Legal frameworks (or their absence) and economic interests of power groups force ASM in many countries into the informal sector. Given a certain complexity of the issues related with ASM, a common approach of the past was to ignore and marginalize artisanal miners. This made problems and especially resource conflicts, e.g. between communities and industrial mining only worse. National and even networked efforts remained isolated. Only recently, the need to engage in formalization processes in a multi-stakeholder context of Governments, Industry, Civil Society, ASM, Consumers, and Development Agencies is slowly becoming a common consensus.

On October 29, 2013, about 60 participants, at a stakeholders meeting organized by Global Rights [a human rights based non-profit] and Follow The Money [A Connected Development transparency and accountability non-profit network], sat in the conference room of the Fulbe Villa in Gusau, Zamfara, in Northern Nigeria to deliberate on how artisanal miners can leave out of poverty, sustainably without tampering with the natural ecosystem. One of the salient issues was the process of formalization of ASMs, and the capacity of the state ministry of health to carry out emergency response to lead poisoning cases that has become rampant in the communities. In Nigeria, ASM are recognized immediately they have been issued certificated to carry out such mining practices, and it is been supported by the National Minerals and Metal Policy, and the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act, both actualized in 2007.
Cross section of participants at the Stakeholders meeting in Fulbe Villa, Gusau, Zamfara
At the meeting, it was affirmed that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development [MMSD] has commenced with the process of formalizing artisanal miner, with about 45 registered ASM cooperatives. For the past 20 years, “the individual Gold panner is a myth” as ASMs must be organized into small work groups or larger clusters of workgroups. With lessons learnt from other part of the world, government can never be in a position to efficiently enforce compliance of thousands of individual miners. In Peru, ASM were already formed as clusters of workgroups, while in Mongolia they formed partnerships. Nevertheless, legalization alone makes environmental compliance not enforceable, government must introduce locally, workable, and adaptable technologies, which must be tested locally. In Mongolia, when the use of mercury was banned in 2008, the government introduced a viable technology solution for a mercury and cyanide free processing plant.

In the same light, the MMSD has taken a bold step in the purchase of 3 Egoli machines and 9 wet milling machines. However, one may ask if that will be enough for the growing population of ASM in Zamfara. More often than not, the response of governments is to ignore ASM, but legalization of ASM needs however to be seen as a first step that is part of a larger strategy for ASM formalization integrating social, environmental, labour, health and safety, economic, commercial, gender, organizational and technical dimensions. The implementation of most technical environmental improvements requires a balanced combination of their demonstrated feasibility, capacity building in miners as well as in support organizations and supervision agencies, and realistic enforceable requirements for which the technology provides a solution. Within a formalization process, this creates intentional artificial win-win options.

Environmental and health management of ASM needs to be seen in a wider context of responsible mining. Lead poisoning and contamination is highly prevalent in Zamfara, while acute mercury poisoning is very rare, opposite to chronic poisoning which accumulates often over years. For miners, the toxic effects of mercury are not as obvious as for scientists. Concerns of workplace safety, the risks of accidents, and the often lacking health services in mining communities in combination with generally harsh and unhealthy living conditions in remote places are perceived a much higher priority. For the umpteenth time, the stakeholders have called on the state ministry of health to rise up to its responsibilities. “Many times we have called on the state ministry of health to join in complementing the work of humanitarian organizations working in treating lead poisoned children, but no response” said Ahmad Ashim These concerns have to be taken serious, as they directly affect the quality of life of the miners and their families, and because without addressing them, projects not only lose credibility in the eyes of the miners but fail to contribute to responsible ASM and sustainable development.

Responsible ASM cannot be done in an unorganized way. ASM can only be organized if ASM organizations are in place. ASM organizations need to be empowered to be able to organize the extractive activity. ASM is a (self-) employment generating activity in remote areas, whereby the location is determined by the mineral deposit. Miners and their families create their communities and livelihoods and aspire development, still in the same way as miners did 150 years ago by creating the gold rush settlement of Sacramento and converting it into the Capital of the US State of California. In the already existing and regulated societies of today, a broader formalization approach must support and accompany the miners in this process. An ASM formalization process therefore must not be limited to the pure legal aspects, but incorporate community development and broad capacity building. This creates the capacity to comply with social and environmental requirements and makes requirements enforceable. ASM communities require equal rights and a similar level of attendance by the public sector as other communities; most “problems of ASM” are home-made and are created by denying miners these rights, and marginalizing them.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Just this morning, hundreds of people have started fleeing the northern Nigeria state of Borno to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Mali. Apparently, the government of Nigeria just announced a state of emergencyin 3 states - Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, where the popular terrorist group – Boko Haram resides. Niger, Chad and Mali seem to be a big suspect. How? – Niger has a awful 81.8% of her population in severe poverty; Northern Mali is still struggling with war, and also has 68.4% of her population in poverty; the story of the later – Chad has been disturbing in recent times, with the shrinking of her only resource – the lake, perhaps due to climate change.

These are all fragile states, which are also a reflective of low income countries. The average gross national income per capital of the 16 West African states is at $908.75. That’s quite disturbing! The highest in this region is Cape Verde with about $3,540. Singapore and Malaysia both have $42,930 and $8,770 respectively. ( Scroll over map below to view indicators of fragility in West African countries) 

Nigeria, where 52% of the about 312 million people living in West Africa reside was ranked 14 out of 117 countries on the 2012Fund for Peace failed states index. Her demise remains peculiar owing to its size and population. While her GDP has become one of the fastest growing in the Sub Saharan, it is been threatened by insecurity. The Boko Haram sect based in northern Nigeria has killed about 1,854 people in 2 years

More than ever, the time bomb seems dangling on the giant that looks over the West African state. The challenges of insecurity, lack of social services, job creation and accountability in government cannot be over emphasized. In Nigeria and other West African countries, about 48.3% still live in poverty. Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University referred to them as the “Bottom Billion” in 2008 and proffered some solutions. It’s quite unfortunate that the same challenges still exist, with the same set of people at the leadership.
(View Paul Collier TEDx Talk below) 

One may have taught, as the post – 2015 deliberations set in, wouldn't it be pertinent to add good governance to one of the sustainable development goals? If government cannot provide basic services (roads, good education, health centres  to her citizens, fragile states resorts, thus demining the prospect for development. However, the way out of these environments is a very limited, much focused package because the capacity for change in these societies is very limited.

Often the government is not able to do very much, and people have no self belief in their society. Where will the solutions come from? It should come from the indigenes, perhaps with little support from external stakeholders.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Development programs are expected to deliver results for everyone involved in development. The value of their ideas, advice and action produced is increasingly being gauged by whether it improves lives and for us to affirm, it should be in the public domain. In the 16 countries in West Africa alone, $15 trillion has been spent on aid between 2010 – 2012 with Nigeria and Ghana receiving the most with 42% and 14% respectively (View the dataset Here). Lots of funds you will say – but does this amount to development? Out rightly, only two (Cape Verde and Ghana) out of these 16 countries falls within the Medium Human Development Rank of the Human Development Index 2013, the others keep crawling within the Low Human Development Rank since 2009 that the Index has been published.

Consequently, every program needs the information to answer three vital questions: “what could constitute success in addressing problems?”; “How will we know success when we achieve it”? And can achievements and its processes be shared in the public domain”? Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) systems can help everyone understand which programs are working, which are not, which can be scaled up, and which could be abandoned, but how it answers the questions in these West African countries remain farfetched!

Recently, during one of the M&E courses I facilitated with Cloneshouse Nigeria, where 80% participants were from government institutions, I asked “will your government be able to publish findings in public domain, or perhaps the breakdown of total spending of your government”? Most of them responded with enthusiasm that they are willing and ready, but their greatest fear might be hindrances coming from the political party, on whose platform they were elected.
Problems of the Country highlighted in Red and Solutions in Green. How True?

Nevertheless, M&E systems can promote transparency and accountability within governments in West Africa. Beneficial spillover effects may also occur from shining a light on results. For aid organizations, how much pressure is put on receiving governments is what we don’t know. One of the participants asked “why do we always receive world bank grants for creation of more health centers, while the once available aren't serving to optimal level, we already have enough health centers to cater for the population of the state”

No doubt, external and internal stakeholders should have a clear sense of status of projects, programs and policies. But, is the ability to demonstrate positive results able to increase popular and political support in West Africa? The truth is that most citizens do not have public confidence in the leadership of their various states. Even, if they publish positive results, citizens believe the outcomes are been doctored to portray “a breath of fresh air” which evaporates at dawn.

Certainly, there are organizational and political costs, and risk associated with implementing result – based M&E systems. There are also crucial costs and risks in not implementing such systems. Suffice it to say that, M&E systems are not new to governments in West Africa, with every department and project having its own M&E unit – how effective are the unit in this region? Permit me to say “I only see their trucks and vehicles, much more than I see their findings in the public domain.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


In october 2012, when the Follow The Money Team were developing their website, little did they know that the hashtag #SaveBagega was going to reach a staggering 600,000 people from over 100 countries. Consequently, putting more pressure on the government of Nigeria to attend to the urgent need of this ailing community.
Screenshot (Jan 26, 2013) of a hashtracking report on the
 hashtag #SaveBagega

Bagega is a village community in Zamfara, Northern Nigeria, where 1,500 children awaits urgent medical attention for lead poisoning. "All we had in mind was to create a web platform integrated with social media tools, and write reports (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Storify) that could amplify the voice of these helpless communities" said Hamzat Lawal, co - creator of the non-profit group that advocates, tracks, and visualizes aid meant for local communities.

Taking a time travel to a decade ago, the story of Bagega wouldn't have reached the next town to Zamfara. Perhaps, if the same medium was used in 2010, when about 400 children died of thesame lead poisoning, an epidemic that was 'termed the largest in the world" there would not have been much death as reported.

Everyday millions of hash tags are been created on Twitter for different reasons. "We were looking for a hash tag that could easily be related with the ailing community, and since this advocacy was directed to saving these children in Bagega, we decided to create #SaveBagega" affirmed Hamzat
Screenshot (October, 2012) of the Follow the Money Website

Coordinating Tweets could be challenging atimes, as such tweets were directed towards stakeholders that were concerned, no thanks some were already using twitter! the list included president Goodluck Jonathan @goodluckjtweets, he's social media PR wasn't spared - Reno Omokri @renoomokri; also the Senator who sees to matters of ecology and environment - @bukolasaraki Tweets were also directed to organizations that might be interested in children, communities, data, accountability and transparency.

Moreover, On December 6, 2012, a social media campaign was also launched with Human Rights Watch urging people to help write on the official facebook wall of President Goodluck Jonathan "President Jonathan, why won't you release the money you promised in May to clean up poisonous lead in Zamfara? Children are dying and your government's failure to act is putting more children at risk".

What happened afterwards? By the end of January, when Senator Bukola Saraki visited Bagega, he confirmed to the whole world, not through the terrestrial media, but through his twitter handle @bukolasaraki that "from confirmed sources the president has ordered the release of funds for the remediation of Bagega. Perhaps, a win for the use of "co-ordinated" creative technologies. Having said that, what would have happened in cases where the government has no presence on internet or the social media?
Recently, I was talking with some colleagues on how the internet not only make information open, but how it has become "a house of history" in 30 years from now, the children of Bagega will be opportune to read what struck their community, some years back, and what their leaders did to save them!

As the quest to ensure transparency and accountability in the funds released to Save Bagega continues, at the last stakeholders meeting on February 12, 2013 in Gusau, the Follow the Money Team asked the Ministry of Mines and State Development (MMSD) on going on how much was made available to them.
."We will get back to you before the next meeting and try to make it public" says the representative of MMSD. All these were posted on their tweet handles for the world to see. On February 26, 2013, the MMSD announced in a press release that 158.3 million was received by their parastatal to encourage safer mining in Zamfara.

As Follow the Money might not be the only available or possible model for advocating for open data and transparency, or tracking and visualizing aid meant for local communities, it can be said that they have been able to document history, and open a new page in how creative technologies can be a tool for saving communities - Maybe in this part of the world!

Friday, February 8, 2013


They (View their names here) are experts from diverse field interested in using technology to drive social change – in this case, they are to add thousands of places – Hospitals, Schools, Government and Private offices to Google Maps using the “easy to use” Google Map Maker. Referred to as the “crowd” they came into Abuja from different parts of Nigeria to join in a one week of mapping exercise tagged “#AbujaMapUp  from  January 26 – February 2, 2013. “I saw the message on twitter and I decided to follow up with the programme” said Kenneth Ogwo based in Lagos.
Group Photo of participants at the training

Kick starting the event on January 26, 2013 was training on Map Making at the International Womens’ Center where about 80 of the 140 registered participants were present. Gracing the session were representatives from Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation (OSGOF), Abuja GeographicInformation System (AGIS), National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Biotechnology Development Agency, Federal Capital DevelopmentAuthority (FCDA), British High Commission, Life Impact Foundation International and a list of others from the private sector. The training session was opened by Adepoju Abiodun (Google Student Ambassador for Nigeria) presenting what Google is doing in Africa followed by several ignites talks on different forms of mapping. “It’s quite interesting, I just added two places on Google maps” exclaimed Nnodim Rose Blossom while Onochie Mokwunye said “I have started adding places with the aid of my mobile phone GPS device, this has been quite revealing”.
Okwunwa Godwin (NEMA), Uzowulu Williams(NEMA  and
Fawole Yetunde(FCDA) joining to Map Wuse 

On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, the participants were grouped into different teams, armed with printed satellite imagery of areas they are familiar with. While they move from one street to another, they tag each building on the imageries, inserted and adjusted roads, which they were able to upload on their various laptops when they get back to their convergence where wireless internet is been provided. This was the routine for four days! “It was fun mapping my area, I enjoyed it” said the 18 year-old Python Programmer, Prince Robert Chetachukwu, a secondary school student of the Gwarinpa Senior secondary School in Jabi. “I never knew my business can be open to the world online for free, please let me know when goes live – you are making history” said an excited Mr Jude, owner of Newton Parks and Resorts at Wuse Zone 4

As the team move from Tetrazzini, Wuse Zone 3; Salamander, Wuse 2; Mr Biggs, Jabi and Drumstix, Gwarinpa Estate as meeting points, making it easier for locales to add businesses online could expose illegal businesses, too. “I am terrified” said Esther Agbarakwe , who raised fear about security of Mappers, and how illegal business owners can be hostile when they see teams taking notes. Not only did this exercise brought like minds in the non-profit and private sector, it brought government officials too who shared their concerns about the exercise, with even AGIS willing to release their data to the team. What does this imply? It means a whole lot of collaboration and partnership is envisaged between these communities – but who will initiate this bold step? We will see in coming days!
Participants adding points from paper maps to Map Maker
at Tetrazzini, Conakry Street, Wuse Zone 3

On Saturday, February 2, 2013 the team decided to go “OPEN” and have fun at the Millennium Park after days of intense mapping. An evening to share ideas, lessons learnt and experiences. “As I have been able to map lots of places, for me, it was an opportunity to contribute back to my community and for the first time I feel involved and the only challenge is the security situation in the country” said Blossom, a new media expert. “It has been an awesome experience seeing people putting their community on the map of the world, while drawback remains the unavailability of a tech hub or lab where the team could converge and populate points easily” said Iyke Maduako, a geospatial expert. “The experience is quite wonderful, prior to now, I never believed those points on Google maps and Google Earth is been added by people like myself, moving forward, I believe more traditional awareness should be initiated to get people to know about mapping” said Omoleye Gbenga, a Calligrapher
AbujaMapUp Team at the Millennium Park

As these young Nigerians – “crowd” add their names to the history of their community, the biggest challenge remains keeping them together. Out rightly, lots of potentials lies within them – Journalists, Geospatial Experts, Data Wranglers, Computer Programmers, Emergency Managers and Development Consultants. How best can Nigeria utilize the energy within this community? Lest I forget, someone told me they will be coming together again on March 2, 2013 at Salamander, Wuse 2, perhaps, this might keep the community together!

Read More Stories about the #AbujaMapUp on Voice of America and Global Post

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


What could have kept one glued to the Television on the 1st day of the year? Perhaps, the English Premier League, The Big Bang Theory , or  Grey's Anatomy. None of them! It was Platform, showing on the “Largest television network in Africa” – Nigeria Television Authority, popularly known as NTA on Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 11 – 12 pm. Interestingly, the guest was Honourable Matthew Omegara, chairman, House on committee on Reform on Government, while the topic – The Freedom of  Information (FOI) Act kept me glued. The Freedom of Information Act, that has been on the front burner since 12 years ago was signed into law by the President, Goodluck Jonathan on May 28, 2011. The House of Representatives passed the Bill on February 24, 2011, while the Senate passed it on March 16, 2011. Both House harmonized it, and was passed by both chambers on May 26, 2011. As this act can deliver Nigeria from the shackles of corruption and accountability, 19 months after it has been signed into law, analysts say there is still a lot that is missing in the Act.

As part of the Committee’s function, they are to engage people from the public and private sectors, the non-government organizations on how best to enforce the act to achieve the goals it was meant for. “It is time for civil society organizations, and the public at large to wake up and start enforcing this Act. Since the bill was passed 2011, we haven’t seen much petitions from the public, especially the media hasn't been up to the task” said the Honourable  The FOI Act has been domesticated in Ekiti State, while in Lagos; it has passed the second reading in the State House of Representative.

The Honourable mentioned that the request for information should be forwarded to MDAs (Ministry Department and Agencies) with respect to the issue at hand. Putting things into perspective, Mr Adamu, from Kunguru village read it in the newspaper that 20 million was allocated to the Ministry of Health a year ago to build a primary healthcare centre in Kunguru. Meanwhile, no primary health care structure is visible at Kunguru. Mr Adamu is meant to verify the authenticity of the news, afterwards forward a letter to the MDA responsible, which in this case, is this Ministry of Health. Honourable Matthew further said, one should get the information requested for in 7 days, and if otherwise, one can proceed to the court of law. Alternatively, “petitions can be forwarded to the Secretary,  Committee on Reform of Government, at the House of Representative” the Honourable member said.

As much as analyst has taken down prospects of the Act, the Honourable seems excited about the FOI Act, he equally stated that states adopting the Act shouldn't be a challenge, since they all adopted the former Official Secret Act, which has been replaced by the recent FOI Act. “By 2014, any MDA that doesn’t set up its FOI Department would not get approval for its budget” confirmed Honourable Matthew Omegara.  As much as the challenges of the FOI Act remains conspicuous – such as information relating to national security, request for information exceeding the mandatory 7 days, and bureaucracy in the MDAs, it shouldn’t make us lose sight of the fact that some positives might come out of it. Some days ago, I was discussing the FOI Act with a Legal Practitioner, and he reiterated the fact that writing to any MDA alone to ask for information could put pressure on them. "Its one step in the right direction and I wouldn't want to say that all request might end up as a court case because most MDA wouldn't want to be involved in legal tussles" he said.

Several times, it has been said that, getting citizens to participate in issues that concern nation building isn't an easy task, owing to the grave loss of public confidence in the government. By the way, one may have asked, where are the CSO’s, media houses, investigative journalist that agitated for the FOI Act? They aren't sleeping, Right to Know has been monitoring the FOI Act, how it is been implemented, and perhaps sensitizing the public; The Media Rights Agenda, has also been holding workshops on the FOI Act for CSOs. What does this mean for Open Data and Open Development in Nigeria? It means Startups like BudgIT and Follow the Money could use this medium in tracking aid flows from the government to communities, at least to an extent, which could have never been achieved before.

The Honorable mentioned how they have started the sensitization in regions of the country with support of UKAid, CIDA and UNDP. Sometimes in December last year, I attended the Ministry of Information sensitization on the FOI Act at the Nicon Luxury. Awareness and education on the FOI Act wouldn’t stop, however stories of how organizations have started enforcing the Act should be told, lessons learnt can then be used in decision making. In all, it was a pleasure, listening to those that make our laws on TV; the truth is that at long term, enforcing the Act can help in making information public, and also tracking funds that flow from the government to communities!