How Taxes Are Spent: ‘Every Citizen Has the Right to Know’

Man stands in front of company logo.
Udamen Ilevbaoje at budgIT. Photo courtesy Udamen Ilevbaoje.

People with little knowledge of financial management can get lost when they try to understand their government’s budget, says Nigerian YALI Network member Udamen Ilevbaoje.

That is why in 2011 Ilevbaoje joined BudgIT as a volunteer. BudgIT is a nongovernmental group in Lagos dedicated to improving transparency and accountability in government. It focuses on presenting government budget data to the public in easy-to-understand tweets, infographics and interactive applications. It has since expanded from Nigeria into Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We believe that in a democracy, every citizen has the right to know how his/her taxes are expended in the delivery of public infrastructure and services,” BudgIT states on its website.

“Equality and open access to governance is entrenched in democracy and its institutions,” says Ilevbaoje, now BudgIT’s project officer. “Our work is to make this information available and get citizens in organized form to demand delivery of public services.”

Ilevbaoje says that Nigeria presents its national budget to citizens in overall numbers but not in details such as how much funding is available for neighborhood projects like rehabilitating a school, repairing potholes in roads or purchasing buses to get people with disabilities to a rehabilitation center.

BudgIT’s Tracka service allows citizens to research and track budgets and public works projects. They can also give feedback to the government and to their communities. With existing social media tools, the platform brings together people with common interests to share documents, videos, photos and comments. It uses live online meetings on Facebook to discuss topics like how funds are being used in Ebola relief.

People at desk working on computers
Clients learn about financial management and open dates at BudgIT offices.
Photo courtesy Udamen Ilevbaoje.

Its Fitila service uses graphics to highlight illicit financial flows in and out of a country. That can help save national budget losses from tax evasion and corruption.

Having won several prestigious international awards, BudgIT recently partnered with the Kaduna state government to help it develop open data and become more transparent.

“I use civic advocacy to drive improved service delivery,” Ilevbaoje says.

“Service to the community is critical to a functional society. … I believe I can do this for a better society.

“I am inspired by the work of my lead partner, Oluseun Onigbinde, who took it upon himself to lead the advocacy to ensure that the schools are built. His personal example of accepting responsibility teaches me a lesson of taking the lead to solve problems at all times.”

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