Nigerian Oluseun Onigbinde, the founder of BudgIT, speaks to HumanIPO about how he aims to give citizens easy and accessible statistics on how public authorities spend their money.
Onigbinde studied electrical engineering at college, but after a short spell in the banking industry, saw an opportunity to contribute to nation development by using technology to create openness and effective communication in budget planning and implementation.
He spoke with HumanIPO on how the idea to set up BudgIT was hatched, the journey so far and agenda for 2013.
HumanIPO: You are an electrical engineer, how did that you lead to you becoming a budget expert?
Oluseun Onigbinde: I worked at First Bank as a strategy analyst focusing on the public sector. In the course, I had to validate assumptions needed to create strategy with a large amount of data. I was surprised at how much skill I had in budget issues.
It was at a friend’s presentation on revenue sharing that I set aside all doubts and decided to go with budgeting. I was involved in a Co-creation Hub Hackathon and interestingly we came second. We got funding of $2,000.
What is BudgIT all about?
What I just described was how BudgIT came into being. We realized that a platform is needed that will be generally appealing to people to make Nigerian budget more understandable so that the citizens can become actively engaged.
It is stated the aim of BudgIT is to stimulate citizens’ interest around public data and to trigger discussions towards better governance. Since the introduction of the project, how has it been able to achieve its goals?
Yes, this is a project that is going to transform the government and you will agree with me that this is much needed. Currently we have a lot of followers on Twitter, we also use Facebook and other social media platforms. We have over 30,000 dedicated visitors and we are getting more
platforms to reach out.
The thing is that the budget has always been there, but the format with which the budget is being represented has been very difficult to understand. It is a large volume of boring figures. But we design the graphics and interactive applications to make sure everyone can understand and use the information to achieve institutional change and reforms. It is a work in progress and it is well documented that people appreciate what we do.
Let’s look at the page on 2013 federal budget. There are several figures there on the allocations for the various government units. My concern is how you update it considering the fact there is an ongoing debate at the National Assembly over this budget. So we cannot say this is the final budget. How conscious are you of the tentative nature of these figures?
I agree with you and it re-emphasises the fact that there is more work for us considering the fact that the National Assembly is still engaging the budget and we have to be working with them. And we are keeping track with people with a better view of the national budget. We plan to hold an interactive session with them next week and talk to them on our views and perspectives.
So I can tell you we are actively working with the National Asembly. Even next week, we are going for a retreat with the National Assembly in Calabar where we will be able to interact more with members and talk about what BudgIT is all about.
What about interactions with other stakeholders such as the Ministry for Finance?
We participated in forums organized by the Ministry for Finance, the Budget Office, and other societies. So we are really collaborating with various stakeholders towards ensuring the realisation of our two major goals which are making information available in easy-to-decipher formats, and bringing about institutional reforms.
You have mentioned several agencies and government ministries you’ve collaborated with. How about the typical Nigerian on the busy Lagos street who has no understanding of what the data you are presenting is all about? What does BudgIT have to offer him?
Like I said, this is a work-in-progress, but already we’ve introduced graphs for people to have clear understanding of the budget figures. The next step now is engaging the media – finding a way of using television, radio, newspapers and other media platforms. For now we are using the internet. Last week we launched our mobile site so that people can access federal and state budgets on their mobile phones. Gradually we are getting there.
How many people are currently actively involved in BudgIT?
We currently have four people on our team, because of our very lean budget. But we hope to change that very soon.
The project is still in its early stages and you are quite ambitious about its future. Out of all your future plans for BudgIT, which one do you plan to achieve in 2013?
In 2013, we would be focusing more on the states and local governments. Before, we’ve focused more on the federal budget. But in 2013, we intend to take it to the grassroots with the support of DFID.
How do you ensure your data and analyses are not hijacked by politicians?
We are just interested in making the data readily available; we don’t want control over the information. What we can only do is ensure the accuracy of our data. And we do this by obtaining and confirming them from various sources.
On behalf of the entire HumanIPO team, I would like to congratulate you on winning the prestigious Future Award, and we wish you the best in 2013 and beyond.