In October 2012, when members of the ‘Follow The Money Team’ were developing their website, little did they know that the hashtag #SaveBagega was going to reach a staggering 600,000 people from over 100 countries, consequently, putting more pressure on the government of Nigeria to attend to the urgent need of this ailing community.
Bagega is a village community in Zamfara, Northern Nigeria, where 1,500 children awaits urgent medical attention for lead poisoning. “All we had in mind was to create a web platform integrated with social media tools, and write reports (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Storify) that could amplify the voice of these helpless communities”.
Follow The Money is a non-profit group that advocates, tracks, and visualises aid meant for local communities.
Taking a time travel to a decade ago, the story of Bagega wouldn’t have reached the next town to Zamfara. Perhaps, if the same medium was used in 2010, when about 400 children died of the same lead poisoning, an epidemic that was ‘termed the largest in the world” there would not have been much death as reported.
Everyday millions of hash tags are been created on Twitter for different reasons. “We were looking for a hash tag that could easily be related with the ailing community, and since this advocacy was directed to saving these children in Bagega, we decided to create #SaveBagega,” affirmed Hamzat.
Coordinating Tweets could be challenging at times, as such tweets were directed towards stakeholders that were concerned, and no thanks some were already using twitter! the list included President Goodluck Jonathan’s social media PR – Reno Omokri @renoomokri; also the Senator who sees to matters of Ecology and Environment – @bukolasaraki. Tweets were also directed to organisations that might be interested in children, communities, data, accountability and transparency.
Moreover, on December 6, 2012, a social media campaign was also launched with the Human Rights Watch (HRW) urging people to help write on the official Facebook wall of President Goodluck Jonathan “President Jonathan, why won’t you release the money you promised in May to clean up poisonous lead in Zamfara? Children are dying and your government’s failure to act is putting more children at risk”.
What happened afterwards? By the end of January, when Senator Bukola Saraki visited Bagega, he confirmed to the whole world, not through the terrestrial media, but through his twitter handle @bukolasaraki that “from confirmed sources the president has ordered the release of funds for the remediation of Bagega. Perhaps, a win for the use of “co-ordinated” creative technologies. Having said that, what would have happened in cases where the government has no presence on internet or the social media?
Recently, I was talking with some colleagues on how the internet not only made information open, but how it has become “a house of history.” In 30 years from now, the children of Bagega will be able to read what struck their community, some years back, and what their leaders did to save them!
As the quest to ensure transparency and accountability in the funds released to Save Bagega continues, at the last stakeholders meeting on February 12, 2013 in Gusau, the Follow the Money Team asked the Ministry of Mines and Steal Development (MMSD) on how much was made available to them? “We will get back to you before the next meeting and try to make it public” says the representative of MMSD. All these were posted our twitter handles for the world to see.
On February 26, 2013, the MMSD announced in a press release that 158.3 million was received by the ministry to encourage safer mining practices in Zamfara State.
As Follow the Money might not be the only available or possible model for advocating for open data and transparency, or tracking and visualising aid meant for local communities, it can be said that they have been able to document history, and open a new page in how creative technologies can be a tool for saving communities – maybe in this part of the world!
Hamzat Lawal is the Co-Founder/Advisor, Nigerian Youth Climate Action Network and also the Co-Creator, Follow The Money.