In october 2012, when 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.
|Screenshot (Jan 26, 2013) of a hashtracking report on the
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” said Hamzat Lawal, co – creator of the non-profit group that advocates, tracks, and visualizes 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 thesame 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
|Screenshot (October, 2012) of the Follow the Money Website
Coordinating Tweets could be challenging atimes, as such tweets were directed towards stakeholders that were concerned, no thanks some were already using twitter! the list included president Goodluck Jonathan @goodluckjtweets, he’s social media PR wasn’t spared – Reno Omokri @renoomokri; also the Senator who sees to matters of ecology and environment – @bukolasaraki Tweets were also directed to organizations that might be interested in children, communities, data, accountability and transparency.
Moreover, On December 6, 2012, a social media campaign was also launched with Human Rights Watch 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?
I have it on good authority that Mr President has approved the immediate release of funds to re-mediate Bagega.@yusufismail1 @xeenarh
— Sen. Bukola Saraki (@bukolasaraki) January 25, 2013
Recently, I was talking with some colleagues on how the internet not only make information open, but how it has become “a house of history” in 30 years from now, the children of Bagega will be opportune 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 State Development (MMSD) on going on how much was made available to them.
How much went to Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel? They said we will get that information before next meeting to #SaveBagega
— Follow The Money (@4lowthemoney) February 12, 2013
.“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 on their tweet handles for the world to see. On February 26, 2013, the MMSD announced in a press release that 158.3 million was received by their parastatal to encourage safer mining in Zamfara.
As Follow the Money might not be the only available or possible model for advocating for open data and transparency, or tracking and visualizing 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!