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The accountability app giving citizens a voice in Nigeria

The Participatory Community Services Messaging System (PCSMS) has opened a new channel for citizens to demand services from local government.

Uwar Kungiya (CBO in Igabi, Kaduna) secretary demonstrating the power of the PCSMS app to the Director of Education, Igabi Local Government Association.

In the past, we found it difficult to gain access to local officials and service providers when we wanted to make demands concerning water or sanitation issues. With the PCSMS app, it has become easy to log in our demands and to follow up with local officials to ensure such demands are met”- Mohammed Dodo (Chairman of Mallam Madori Community Water Consumers Association in Jigawa)

Major gaps in local sanitation and water systems are a real threat to the health and wellbeing of citizens across northern Nigeria. If citizens can’t access appropriate and safe sanitation facilities and sustainable and reliable water supplies, their exposure to public health risks and diseases like cholera and diarrhea is significantly increased. Every year in Nigeria, over 25,000 children die from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Many areas in remote and rural parts of northern Nigeria struggle with severely damaged local health infrastructure, and worse still, no functioning system of accountability whereby local government is held to account for the absence of life saving services. In states like Jigawa, citizens experience long delays mobilising local officials to address even minor repairs. Community frustration with this inadequate provision of essential services remains largely unanswered.

Bureaucracy also complicates matters. The complaints from our community have to be passed up the chain of command, often taking weeks or months, before we can get our water pumps working again”- Mohammed Dodo (Chairman of Mallam Madori Community Water Consumers Association in Jigawa).

Palladium’s Mobilising for Development (M4D) project helps build relationships between communities and their policy makers and service providers. The essence of M4D’s mission is to improve the basic delivery of a range of services to citizens (including in healthcare, education, water and sanitation and livelihoods) and the quality and reliability of local government responses to citizen demands. This is about inclusive development, empowering the citizens of northern Nigeria to hold policy makers and service providers to higher standards of accountability and transparency.

Uwar Kungiya (A CBO in Igabi LGA) Chairman and Secretary showing the PCSMS tab to the Deputy Director of Education, Igabi LGA.

Innovative solutions that enhance local democracy and best fit the needs of the community are the Holy Grail. In PCSMS, M4D and Encipher (an indigenous IT product and service delivery company) developed a technology solution to address both the ability of citizens to demand services, and of local government to respond. PCSMS is a tablet-based application that simplifies the lodging of community complaints and enquiries to local government officials, and the ability of front-line service providers to track and respond to community complaints. The app enables supervisors, and ultimately decision-makers, to deploy resources more effectively and efficiently, manage productivity better, and build stronger and more responsive relationships with the community. In 2014 the first pilot phase of PCSMS was launched in Jigawa, Kaduna and Kano to address water and sanitation, health and education.

In Jigawa, PCSMS was introduced in response to the severe delays community based organisations (CBOs) were experiencing when submitting requests to local government. In short, no one could be held accountable for the failures in basic public services. Prior to PCSMS, complaints were submitted in-person at local government offices, and stored on a paper-based database. Heads of Departments in Local Government Areas had no efficient system for tracking the status of responses to multiple requests at any point in time. Consequently, CBOs endured cumbersome follow-up processes to establish the status of pending requests; and more importantly, communities were made to wait for services fundamental to life.

All in all, this was an inefficient process at best, and a life endangering one at worst. To tackle this problem, M4D has trained Jigawa policy makers, service providers, and CBOs in the use of the PCSMS, and provided tablets and time bound phone credit for the pilot demonstration. During this pilot 25 community requests relating to water and sanitation issues were submitted via PCSMS, with 23 responded to and resolved- an unprecedented result. PCSMS enables cooperation and partnership, and has had a transformative effect not only on basic services, but also the nature of local government in a number of rural Nigerian communities in Jigawa.

Cross section of participants and facilitators during the practical session of the 2-day PCSMS Phase II training held in March 2016.

PCSMS is now in phase two. Following success with Local Government Areas in Jigawa and Kaduna, M4D is now taking PCSMS to the next level – State Governors. Taking PCSMS to the state level demonstrates a fantastic commitment to accountability from state officials, and the power of technology in providing citizens with a voice. An updated version of the app is expected to be launched towards the end of 2016 and state officials are currently completing training facilitated by M4D.

Now, there is a close relationship between the local government and its people…we receive messages from them fast…PCSMS has made local government ‘development focused’ “– Yusuf Muhammed (Mallam Madori Local Government - Head of the Department of Water and Sanitation).

PCSMS truly is an accountability app giving citizens a voice in northern Nigeria. But perhaps more than that, it is establishing a relationship of trust and respect between local government, state government and local communities. This trust is a crucial ingredient in the improvement of fundamental services and the strengthening of the social contract. This is the essence of good development.