Oluseun Onigbinde: Driving Public Service Accountability Through BudgIT
Iwoye-Ilogbo, a small village, approximately 60km from the Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, desperately needed help. 429 children in Iwoye-Ilogbo in sweltering heat huddle in two classrooms to take their daily lessons. Afraid of vandals and thieves in an insecure environment, they mount their furniture on their heads in the morning from the homes and also return the desks and chair in the evenings. In 2016, Oluseun Onigbinde, founder BudgIT and his team learnt that Iwoye-Ilogbo had a provision for a school in the state budget, they went ahead to organize a town hall meeting on February 17, 2016. The town hall meeting was attended by over 60 people, with a mix of surprise and excitement that there was a plan to improve their educational facilities. Providing this information in a simplified format as well as steps to demand effective completion of projects is the pathway to BudgIT engagement and this alongside collective action with the people of Iwoye-Ilogbo was instrumental to having the project completed. Founded by Oluseun, BudgIT has always put citizens in the center of its work, providing them the necessary information (power) to assert their rights in a democracy.
Coming from the banking sector where he had worked for 5 years, one would expect Oluseun to tow the finance related line occasionally changing jobs and seeking better opportunities that come with job securities as is the case with young people. But Oluseun set out to explore something else, “one with greater responsibilities for the society” as he would say which was borne from some works he did on public sector financial management while working with the bank. These previous experiecne drove his interest in adapting the same idea for the public and this in 2011 gave birth to BudgIT, 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.
Through the use of technology, data and design, BudgIT has brought some level of understanding to the public budgets presented at both the National, state and local levels in Nigeria with its work receiving attention and across the country and presence in 23 states, tracking public projects and reaching over 1.7m Nigerians via our various media and as well supporting over 40 public institutions and civil society.
In 2012, BudgIT benefitted from support from the Tony Elumelu Foundation to the growth and development of Nigeria’s emerging tech industry. This support in form of managed seed funding was provided to 20 technological ideas/ventures targeted at typical social challenges faced by the average Nigerian. This funding Oluseun says was a critical factor to the current growth and rise he and his team have received “thank you to the Tony Elumelu Foundation for believing in us and our dreams, that grant was crucial in our initial stage. It was really helpful. BudgIT at that time was still budding, and it really helped in taking care of our running costs and payment of stipends to our officers. A lot of people think it is small but I believe it is seed that came in time and set forth grand support that we have gotten”
Beyond the seed funding, BudgIT has also benefitted from the network of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and has provided data analysis and visualization to the Foundation, this network Oluseun says “is grossly rewarding and one of the best things that can happen to a young entrepreneur”.
With relative success comes the need to give back and Oluseun has done this by serving as mentor to entrepreneurs on the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme and further on a larger scale to BudgIT Media Fellows and the CivicHive Fellows, these ones have been able to report unreported stories and impact the rural communities by telling their stories and also giving them opportunities to be heard out there. This year the team also launched Civic Hive, a space to blend civic innovation with various facets of governance borne out of vision of refreshing the civil society space with new leaders. We see a visible area that intersects art, design, data and advocacy with public finance and democracy – one with the capacity to birth social innovations that improve the quality of thought processes and thought leaders, ultimately driving Nigerians towards the highest levels of civic education.
Like every other entrepreneur, Oluseun has had his fair share of challenges which he describes as tough “it’s been a very tough process I must say, we have faced challenges from the government, the people and the society at large. Starting off this idea became a threat to a lot of secret dealings that certain persons never wanted to be brought to the limelight. Thereby facing a lot of push back, but we know accountability and transparency must prevail at the end of the day. Civic education has been so poor, and as a result of this, a lot of citizens don’t know their rights and this makes it very difficult for them to ask the right questions”. He has however taken lessons learnt from these challenges as BudgIT works towards expanding its footprint in the West African sub-region and also wants to building a community of civic entrepreneurs that can transform Nigeria. BudgIT also plans to strengthen its offline network, mainly the grassroots and improve our external communication.
To learn more about the work of BudgIT visit http://yourbudgit.com/