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BudgIT: When Apologies Are Not Enough

By Adam Adedimeji

Tracka is a kind of feedback mechanism on governmental projects in Nigeria. It is meant to facilitate citizens’ access to respond to projects and programmes carried out by government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in their communities.

Tracka is one of the schemes used by BudgIT, a Civil-Society Organization, with a self-tasked role to engage citizens on budgetary responsibilities from the government with a view to ensuring institutional improvement. Set up in 2014, it is said to be functional in twenty (20) States in Nigeria.

The activities of BudgIT, especially with reference to Tracka, showcase the beauty of democracy by enhancing open society and citizens’ participation in governmental projects. In other words, it is a manifestation of the common meaning of democracy, which entails a government with premium on the people in all manner of actions.

Provided it carries out its functions as outlined, which include monitoring government projects with a view to assessing their standards and completion as spelt out in budgetary allocations and, in turn, reaching out to relevant public offices and the concernedcommunities, BudgIT could be an eloquent testimony that the people in our respective communities are not puppets that have to accept whatever is dished out to them without questions or right of reply.

Recently, Tracka through its Twitter handle, @trackNG, brought its (un)doings to the public when the group alleged that Senator Adelere Oriolowo of Osun West Senatorial District got N40 million for a training programme for select persons in his constituency but ended up spending N2.5 million.

The tweet stated: “N40m was allocated in the 2020 FG ZIP (Federal Government Zonal Intervention Programme) for practical skill development and training of youths and women in fishing in selected areas in Osun West Senatorial District, Osun State. We confirmed (that) 50 participants selected across 10 LGAs (Local Government Areas) attended the training and received N50,000 (each) as start-up grant.”

Tracka’s rush-to-the-social-media comment was further amplified by The PUNCH rush-to-the-press report of September 24, 2020. Typical of how any job done in unnecessary hurry always ends up, both the social media post and the mainstream media report turn out to be a hatchet job that could misinform the undiscerning members of the public due to their deficiency in truth.

Since it is elementary knowledge that the legislature and the executives do not fuse functions especially in a presidential system of government as ours, it amounts to gross ignorance, to say the least, that Tracka appears not to know the glaring distinction between the constitutional roles of the twoarms of government. While legislators enjoy the liberty of nominating or sponsoring projects through budgetary provisions, the responsibility for implementation of projects is strictly that of the executive arm.

In fact, projects, whether emanating from the legislature or the executives, are domiciled in the relevant Ministry or Agency of government responsible for the implementation of such. In clearer terms, notwithstanding being the facilitator of the project through his legislative input, there is no way Senator Oriolowo can be involved in the implementation of Zonal Intervention Programme for practical skills development and training of youths and women in fishing recently conducted in selected areas of the Senatorial District.

It follows therefore that enquiries regarding projects implementation ought to be channelled to such relevant Ministry or Agency, except the mission of the enquirer revolves around mischief or anything other than overall public interest.

Had Tracka not rushed to make defamatory insinuations that Senator Oriolowo had pocketed N37.5 million, the group would have found out the actual number of persons targeted to benefit from the programme and it would have realized that the beneficiaries are more than fifty persons that took part at the first batch of the training programme. 

Trackawould have further known theexact percentage of the budgeted amount that was eventually released by the Ministry to the Agency in charge of its implementation. 

Also, while it is true that N50,000 was disbursed to each of the fifty participants as starter-pack after the training, it is far from the truth that only N50,000 was spent on each of the participant.

Is it that Tracka’s network was not available or fluctuating, hence its inability to compute logistics needs of the trainees and their trainers, such as accommodation, transportation, feeding, workshop facilities, among other necessities? What of renting a hall for the training and equipment provided for the participants as part of the start-up incentives?

Tracka also failed to put into its consideration that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unwise, if not hazardous, to gatherall the selected beneficiaries of the fish farming training at one place at a time. 

Obviously, it is not hard to find out that the project is slated to be done in phases and not a one-off thing. With this, no one needs rocket science to understand that Tracka’s post that only N2.5 million out of the earmarked N40 million was spent is nothing but a fallacy.

Was Tracka in a trance? Was Tracka just out to twist facts in order to impugn Senator Oriolowo’s hard earned integrity and mislead the general public?The whole scenario is antithetical to the values of creativity, insight, accuracy, excellence and accountability enunciated to be the hallmarks of BudgIT, the parent body of Tracka. 

In the course of writing this piece, precisely on Sunday, September 26, BudgIT had apologised to the Lagos State Government for another misrepresentation in its latest release of States Report. 

Intweets after tweets, the organisation said it has retracted its graphic that listed the Lagos State government some days ago among states with inability to meet their recurrent expenditure.

Given that ours is a clime where those who own up to their wrongdoings are in short supply, BudgIT ordinarily ought to be commended for acknowledging its fault and apologizing in that regard. But then, that apology is too insignificant to have any meaningful impact on healing the wounds caused by the organisation.

Through Tracka’s spurious allegation, it is hard for one to believe that BudgIT is on a mission (as it claimed) of using “creative technology to simplify public information, stimulating a community of active citizens and enabling their right to demand accountability, institutional reforms, efficient service delivery and equitable society.”

Except the civic society advocacy group takes urgentsteps to do the needful by correcting itself on this issue of 2020 FG ZIP, it is doubtful whether BudgIT would ever realize its noble vision to “see a community of active citizens that relentlessly make effective use of public information to demand accountability, geared for institutional improvement, efficient services delivery, and an equitable society.”

Indeed, with what misinformation could do to humans, BudgIT’s false information on 2020 FG ZIP is extremely dangerous not only to the constituents of Osun West Senatorial District and Senator Oriolowo but also to the FG and the Nigerian people in general. This is quite disappointing in view of the role expected of BudgIT. 

This matter goes beyond Lagos State government and the 2020 FG ZIP. It transcends tendering apology in a series of tweets to only the Lagos State government.BudgIT needs to be evaluated psychiatrically. 

If nothing mentally is wrong with the organization, BudgIT should apologise to Nigerians and pay appropriately for the inestimable damage its avalanche of misinformation has caused Nigeria and Nigerians.

Adedimeji is an Abuja-based legal practitioner and can be reached through:

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