OPEN GOVERNMENT DATA: THE NIGERIA EXPERIENCE

Open Government (OG) is about openness, which begins with process of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement for effective and efficient governance. To achieve and sustain this, all stakeholders must understand the overall goals of the process and specific roles they need to play.

OG can only be achieved when data/information related to government policies and decisions on budget, population, geodata, transports, etc from public sector bodies are made open and accessible through Open Data Initiative (ODI). However, Government data is said to be open only if it can be accessed, reused, and redistributed by anyone, for any purposes, including commercial reuse, free of costs, without any restrictions, using any convenient channel.

Open Government Data (OGD) is a system that allow access, reuse and redistribution of data that is relevant for government transparency, accountability and citizen engagement – budget data and legislative records, and including those data that can be used for enhancing service delivery – geodata, transport data, etc.

During previous administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan an Open Government Action Plan was developed through a series of stakeholder workshops and consultation sessions with government, private sector and civil society participants. The Action Plan specifies the range of investments already made by the FGN to strengthen open government in Nigeria, and outlines concrete commitments to tackle three grand challenges facing FGN; fighting administrative corruption, increasing public accountability and integrity and increasing innovation in government entities, civil society organizations and small business to better exploit increasingly available government data.

Although there is no single portal deliberately opened for OGD at the national level, despite the effort of the previous government to carry out such project through Ministry of Information Communication Technology with support from DFID and World Bank, some government agencies and institutions like Office of the Statistician General of the Federation, the National Budget Office and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) provides accessible data on annual statutory budget, statistics on employment, poverty, economic growth, GDP, inflationary rate and other economic indices on their respective websites. The data on these websites are freely available and accessible in a machine readable format that allowed reuse, redistribution and modification without any restriction. Social media experts, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been using data from these websites to engage citizens to participate in governance and ask questions on economic and social issues and demand for good governance. While the local and international business communities as well as investors have being using data available from these websites for production and investment purposes.

At the State level, Edo State Government, has taken the lead, through a programme supported by World Bank, it has launched an Open Data Portal (ODP) in September, 2013 the first of its kind in Nigeria, and first sub-national portal in Africa. For the first time, the state budget, including historical data, was published and made available online for citizens to access. The ODP provides an easy way to find access and reuse public datasets from the State Government, with the hope of providing a platform for improving transparency, catalysing innovation and enabling social and economic development. The impressive part of this ODP is that, it provides open data, citizen engagement, innovation, public service and institutional platforms.

BudgetIT and OroData are among the major CSOs and social media practitioners who usually obtained, analysed and published government data on their respective websites for effective citizen participation, transparency and collaboration, with the aim of directly engaging citizen to influence government processes, decision making and service delivery.

Based on the commitment of the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari to the fight against corruption in all its ramifications, it is imperative for the FGN to fast tract the implementation of open data initiative. So that principle of transparency and accountability in public administration can easily be achieved. This would enable anti-graft agencies to find data readily available to aid their investigation and prosecutorial activities in the fight against systemic and administrative corruption. Therefore, an OGD portal that is all encompassing with various datasets, analytical tools and info-graphics    from all arms of government and across divergent sectors of the economy will provides greater assistance in this direction.

It is however important, to note that, despite the numerous advantages associated with OGD initiative, its risks and far reaching limitations should not be neglected. This is based on the fact that, freedom of information does not negate other rights and should not be allowed to the detriment of legal rights, privacy and national security. – MURTALA BELLO BANKANU – KADUNA, Nigeria

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