IDEAS Radio 6 Sept 2019

Guest: Head of Tracka NG, Uadamen Ilevbaoje

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome, welcome to Public Square.  I am Aghogho Oboh, and this is your greatest political show … Planet Earth.   Welcome to Public Square once more, and we discuss all the big and significant political issues.  IDEAS segment, Ayo Obe is here and she’s smiling from ear to ear …

Ayo Obe: Well I’m smiling because I thought that you had a bell for the Public Square, but now it turns out that you have a trumpet, and you’re blowing it!

Rotimi Sankore: No, the bell … the bell …

AgO: I do have a trumpet, and the trumpet goes like [make trumpet sound]

[Bell rings]

AgO: Ah!  Ok. We’ll try as much as possible to keep it all within the Square.  And on Public Square today, first with the IDEAS segment on Public Square, we’re going to be looking at Tracka.  Tracka is here today. The head of Tracka is here with us, here with us. Uadamen Ilevboaje …

Uadamen Ilevbaoje: Ilevbaoje

AgO: Ilevboaje, Uadamen Ilevboaje.  I love the sound of that.

Rotimi Sankore: First attempt.

AO: Once you turn the ‘boa’ to ‘bao’,  then I think we’ll be there.

AgO: Alright, Ilevboaje.  So, Uadamen is here. Remember, you can join the conversation @PublicSquareNG, @RotimiSankore, @naijama, @AghoghoOboh, @NigeriaInfoFM, tweet at any of these handles for your questions.  We also have a WhatsApp platform, which is 08095975805. 

And so we are ready to speak with Tracka, Ayo Obe.

AO: Well thanks very much Aghogho and Rotimi.  And I really want to welcome Uadamen Ilevbaoje to … he’s the Head of Tracka.  And if anybody follows me on Twitter, they will know that I’m a big fan of Tracka.  And it kind of dates back to a period when I was writing a chapter about Nigeria’s quest for Freedom of Information legislation for a book being published by the Columbia University Press.  And one of those contributing a chapter was from India, and I was always very impressed by the way he explained that, you know, by having access to the budgets of local governments in India, the villagers would see that ten workers were supposed to have been recruited at such and such price, to fix such and such road, and that the villagers would now say: “We didn’t see any workers o!”  Or so on and so on and so forth. So it always impressed me, and it’s so wonderful to see that Tracka, which is part of BudgIT, is … (BudgIT, I’m sure you all know about BudgIT which puts money things into graphics, and investigates the way money is spent), so it’s really great to see that Tracka is really doing exactly this sort of thing. Not just looking at things from a detached perspective, but really going into communities all over the country and finding out: Is the money that is said to be spent, being spent?  And how is it being spent? So I want to really welcome … I’m going to just say ‘Damen’ … to IDEAS radio.

UI: Okay, thank you very much for having me.  Yes, the whole idea of Tracka started when we started BudgIT.  You know, we were trying to use BudgIT to analyse the data, so we also look at it, there’s need for citizens to know how these funds are being expended, so we started Tracka.  Tracka started in 2014, as a result of after the heavy downpour that destroyed almost the whole River Niger states, so we travelled to twelve River Niger states to investigate the flood money, so we discovered that … 

AO: When you say ‘flood money’, you mean money that had been voted for flood relief?

UI: Yes, for flood relief.  There was N17.6 billion from international donors, international partners and the Federal Government.  These funds were supposed to … they were supposed to give these funds to people that were badly affected by the flood.  So we were in 12 out of the 16 River Niger states in Nigeria across the six geopolitical zones to monitor these funds. So the response we got from them was that … nothing … they didn’t … they were not compensated.  Those that, those that were compensated were people that were not even affected by the flood, they are people who have brothers that works in local government to be able to be on the list to compensate those that were not affected.

So we also looked at it that there’s always a N100 billion provision yearly for the 469 legislators across the 774 local governments, so there’s now need for us to also look at: How are they even spending these funds?  So that’s how we started Tracka. The whole idea is for … Tracka is a committee of active citizens who tracks the implementation of public projects in their communities and gives feedback to the government.  Because over time we discover that there’s a very big disconnect between citizens and those that they elected into public offices. And if you look at our budget system, you discover that citizens are not really captured in the budget, because there is a low level of citizen participation, so we try as much as possible to use this platform to engage citizens, to educate them about the budgetary provision, to see how they can also supervise, to say that: Look, this is what we want, it should not be a thing that “This is what  you will do for us” So we try as much as possible to go to local communities after the budget has been approved, we print out the budget documents, we put it on a pamphlet. So presently we are in 25 states, we have 30 tracking officers who go out on a daily basis to educate residents about the budgetary provision, to say: This is what the government has planned to do for you, so this is the project, this is the amount. And we also make sure that … we make them understand that funds are not released to those that they elected, to their representatives, but the work of their representatives is to follow up with the respective MDAs …

AO: Well I want to ask you about that, because in fact, you have become quite – I don’t know whether to say  famous, notorious or infamous – for putting out the names of legislators, particularly those that actually have Twitter handles, to say: “You  nominated x amount for a Constituency Project, and what is the status of it?” And some of the legislators of course have responded. Others have replied to say: “It’s nothing to do with me guv’nor, I’m …  I just nominated the project. And I’m not the one implementing it, I’m not the one who is … I don’t have to respond to your questions.” And I wonder, when we talk about Accountability, why do you say that the legislators should be held accountable for spending that money?

UI: Ok fine.  Thank you very much for that wonderful question.  Fine. First of all, because if you look at the whole system, when you engage the legislators, they will tell you they are not responsible for that project.  But the question is, upon completion, you see their name on that project, so that means that they are responsible for that project.

AO:  Well, I mean, some of them … in fact some of them even put it as though they are taking … they say “Donated by”, others try to say: “Facilitated by …”   But the point is that whether their name is there or not or whether they take the credit for it; what we find is that every year the legislators recommend new projects, and I wonder whether we have any … whether they are expected to find out what happened to the money that they recommended the year before as Constituency Project, or … or whether they can just keep on recommending without following up?

UI: Ok, fine.  You know there’s … as I said, there’s always a N100 billion provision for Constituency Project.  So on the long run, it’s not always this 100% implementation, there’s always a 70 …  sometimes, like over the past three or four years now there was a 50% release, 70% release, last year 2018, about 50, 20 which is 70% release.  So by rights, since they nominated that project, they have every access to engage the respective MDAs, because they nominate these projects, they take these projects to MDAs where they can oversee the affairs.  That’s why you see a school project under the Ministry of Science and Technology which is not supposed to be. You see a school project under SMEDAN, while instead of SMEDAN to do their own job, as to be doing empowering and the rest.  But these lawmakers, they nominate these projects to agencies, because these are the agencies where they can influence, where they can follow up to ensure implementation. So I don’t think there’s any way they will say they are not responsible for these projects, because just look at the recent one that happened in Enugu.  We had a partnership with the ICPC to track the Constituency project funds …  

AO: Ok, oh yes!

UI: So there was a N117 million to make provision for empowerment.  So we’d been on social media, we’d been calling out Senator Godfrey Utazi to ask him, what is the implementation status of this project?  And he has never one day responded to us, not knowing that those empowerment project items were supplied and he kept it in his compound for over one year … 

AO: They were supplied and delivered to him?

UI: Delivered to him in his own house.  So those are the people who will tell you they’re not responsible …

AO: When ICPC came knocking – that’s the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission – when they came knocking, suddenly he …

UI: Within a week, he distributed  those Kẹkẹ NAPEP,  sewing machines and the rest.  And these are the same people that will tell you they are not responsible for all these projects.  So what … what are those items doing in his house? Why are those items, why are they not in the Ministry where they direct people to say: Go and meet the Ministry …

AO: Well he’s one example and I dare say that other Senators, or other legislators will say: Well, he may have been the one doing it, hoarding these things, but our own case is different.”

One thing that is noticeable from many of these Constituency Projects, is the number of them that deal with empowerment, and the other thing I think, is the wide variation in price.  Some of the … I mean I often see people responding to the figures that are given by Tracka, and saying: “For that money I could have got …” and mentioning huge sums of money that are spent.  One person will spend N8 million on a school, another will spend N20 million on something that looks pretty much the same.  How … how involved is Tracka in the issue of price comparison, or … I mean, it used to be under Dr. Oby Ezekwesili that … they used to call her ‘Madam Due Process’ because the price monitoring and so on was done before the contract could go, but it is equally supposed to be done after, that the Bureau goes round and finds out: What did you spend on this?  And then they do some price monitoring and evaluation. So in the case of Tracka, because it’s often raised, how … to what extent does … do the prices that are spent on some of these projects stand any scrutiny?

UI: Ok, fine.  I think for the price comparison, we’ve been able to do our own findings, because if you look the Constituency Projects implementation, over 70%  of these funds are being tied to empowerment and these are things that you don’t even measure the impact. You don’t even know when … In the case where you say you are buying 100 motorcycles, how are we even sure you bought 100 motorcycles?  If at all you bought 100 motorcycles, who are the beneficiaries?

AO: I mean, could it … could the price be so high because maybe there is some element of training people to ride motor cycles, buying them helmets, and teaching them the rules of the road, getting them driving licences?  (I don’t think).

UI: That’s where I’m going now.  Ok, like last year there was a N60 million provision to supply grinding machines …

AO: Grinding machines?  How many grinding machines?

UI: I don’t know.  So I don’t want to call the name of the lawmaker, he called me, he said he priced a grinding machine.  The original price is of grinding machine is like N30,000 to N36,000, but the MDA that they awarded this project to, was costing it for N250 million … N250,000 for one!

AO: For one grinding machine!  Yes, in fact, when we saw that, many of us wondered, so the ordinary pepper grinder that we see, they must be actually, secret millionaires!

UI: Yes, which he declined, to say No, that he cannot be a party to that, to say you want to buy a grinding machine which cost  N40,000 or thirty-something thousand naira for N250,000; that he’s not he’s not a party to that.  So we have seen instances of that. Ok, like the kẹkẹ NAPEP: like ordinarily a kẹkẹ NAPEP is supposed to be for N400,000 but when you look at the way they calculate it, you will see that a kẹkẹ NAPEP  goes for N1.2 million,

AO: Yeah, again, as I said, Is it that they are given lessons in running a business, training, or anything?  Keeping accounts?

UI: The one for the training is even the most … one that you don’t even measure impact.  Because… like last year budget in Edo North Senatorial District, there was a N130 million provision to do sensitization on people living with HIV … across the Edo North Senatorial District.  So, as a result of our Tracking agents going round all the local governments asking questions if such training happened, they said No. So the question is: how do you even measure impact? We’ve seen a case where there was a N45 million provision to train youths in Kano State.  So those that attended said they got N500 after they training and they were not empowered, they didn’t give them key, they didn’t give them anything, they only got N500.

AO: This is the … These are some of the issues.  We notice also … I’m sorry to be jumping around but there are just so many issues, I’ll probably have to drag you back again.  But another of the issues that we notice with regard to the information that Tracka puts out, is when it divides up where the money for these Constituency Projects goes according to the Ministry, Department or Agency that is executing, a huge amount, in fact the largest amount goes to the Secretary of the Government … to the Government of the Federation.  And I wonder … do the legislators, do they work with the SGF’s office, or what is the SGF spending all this money on?

UI: I think over the years now, for the past two or three years now, the SGF gets the highest chunk of Constituency Project Funds.  And you know, under the SGF the Border Control Commission and the Refugees Commission and you also have the SDGs, so I think, the only agency …

AO: So when you say refugees, do you mean people from outside, or does it also cover Internally Displaced Camp Persons, IDPs 

UI: That’s just the name of the … the name of the agency is Refugees Commission.

AO: Okay

UI:  Then we also have Border Control …

AO: So does the money go to IDPs?  

UI: Well, no the …

AO: I mean the reason why I ask, if the money is going to people who are not Nigerians, whether it’s easier to escape accountability, so that’s really the reason.

UI: No, the funds that they tie, that they allocate all these ministries are going for projects, to buy Kẹkẹ NAPEP, and it is  not for the particular states where you have issues with the crisis. So IDP … all the States, or let me say all the House of Reps Members, and Senators, they get … they also allocate projects to this Ministry, when they don’t even have problem in their respective states, do you understand?  And if you look at all the projects under SGF, they are all empowerment projects, then the few capital projects you can even track to see if actually this has been done …

AO: And have you been able to find people who have been involved in doing the empowerment by the SGF?  Or …

UI: We’ve not seen any, we’ve not seen any.  Very few ones, that we’ve seen. But the question is, the … if you look at  the amount released and what you are seeing on ground, they are two different things.  Ok, just like, the N130 million for sensitization  under Ministry of Justice. Just tell me, what is Ministry of Justice doing with people, empowering people that has HIV?  So you see, what, from my own observation … 

AO: Well, to be frank you can always find a tortuous way, because Ministry of Justice is probably telling them about their rights to freedom from discrimination and so on and so forth, but I can see that the clock is running down on the IDEAS section, and I think that … really what I’ve   what we’ve being trying to find out … because to me, as I said Tracka, Accountability is your food and drink …

UI: Yes, yes

AO: … but the impression I’m getting is that there may be a demand for Accountability, there may be mechanisms for Accountability, but when it comes to whether the people who are getting these funds are administering them with even the smallest degree of Integrity, that … there are  a lot of questions that still remain to be asked.

But for now, we have to close the IDEAS segment.   I want to invite you to remain in the Public Square so that you can answer some more questions, because I think that  the politics of it is as interesting (let me put it), as … but thank you very much for joining us on IDEAS.