Technology and Civic Engagement: The Way Forward, by Ahmed Sani

Technology today is at the core of modern-day activism, with civil society organizations like Connected Development (CODE), BudgIT, Enough Is Enough, TransparencIT, FollowTaxes and others utilizing social media, data analysis tools, and infographics tools available to simplify contents, increase reach and also make advocacy data driven. Efforts of these organisations exemplify the importance of technology and data to active citizenry. Many civil society organizations are learning to build up their skills to ensure that advocacy on issues are backed by facts.

Nigeria has an active technology space with almost 93 million internet users. Facebook has almost 15 million users in Nigeria; and as of 2015, over 250 million tweets came from Nigeria. This coupled with the work Andela, Ventures Park, Google, Colab, and Facebook are all doing tirelessly to build capacity of youths on programming, digital skills and to create a self-sustaining technology ecosystem in Nigeria. This has started yielding results as many technological innovations designed to improve transparency and accountability, renewable energy, housing, financial and transportation issues have surfaced. Hotels.ng, BudgIT, Payant, Taxify, Flutterwave are noteworthy examples.

Governance should be every citizen’s business whether you are in government or not. Active citizenry is not limited to constant criticism of the government but taking part in decision making at local level. It is important citizens are in the know as to the plans of the government to enable them demand accountability in service delivery. Technology provides arrays of platforms especially for social media that citizens can leverage to perform their civic duties effectively, noteworthy examples of this are the #OpenNASS, #BBOG, and the recent #ReformSARS twitter campaign, which all aided in activating citizens and pressured government into taking positive action.

Most governments are reluctant in performing their duties. Often times they must be pressured by citizens and civil society groups to deliver on their promises. Fortunately, citizens and civil society groups can leverage technology to sustain that pressure. But more importantly, there is a need for collaboration between citizens groups and civil society to come up with ideas, strategies, and road-maps to better engage the governance structure effectively.

Recently, I came across a mapping of innovation hubs in Nigeria (turns out we have one in all geopolitical zones with some zones having more than one) and I am of the view that citizens groups and civil society organizations can tap into these resources to their benefit. It is of immense importance for citizens groups and civil society organizations to develop a better partnership for the sake of activating citizens, amplifying the impact of their work and better hold the government accountable.

Additionally, a proper synergy between media, civil society and innovation hubs will go a long way in making sure both civil society and media are equipped with necessary technological tools to ensure sustainability in their engagement.

Just like, BudgIT one of the biggest civic tech platforms in Africa started from an innovation hub (CcHub) in Lagos, perhaps the next big 30 civic tech platforms that will help improve transparency, accountability and communication between government and citizens are only a few partnerships away.

Ahmed is a Development Practitioner and Consultant for TransparencIT.

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