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How online poll ensures health projects’ accountability in Nigeria, by UNICEF

PHOTO: nigeriahealthwatch.com

PHOTO: nigeriahealthwatch.com

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a United Nations programme that provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. In Nigeria, the organisation works to promote a world in which every child has a fair chance in life from distributing life-saving aid to women and children in emergency situations, to working with the government to ensure that vaccines are available to children, regardless of their geographical location.

According to Victoria Udoh, National Coordinator, UNICEF/U-Report Nigeria, “apart from health, the agency also works in other sectors such as education, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), social protection, nutrition, as well as, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and child protection.”

In order to access information and monitor situation in these critical sectors, UNICEF has created U-Report Nigeria Voice Matter (U-RNVM), an online poll platform conducted weekly to study various socio-economic and health issues across the country. The platform seeks to know the most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be tackled by the government. Interestingly, in most of the online administered reports, many Nigerians are concerned about critical sectors, as it has been noted that poverty in the country remains significant despite the country’s enormous natural resources.

In her assessment of the role of U-Report, its success and impact on the polity, vis-à-vis, the socio-political and economic development process in the country, Udoh explained, “the U-report has quite a number of success stories. During the Ebola and Lassa Fever outbreaks, the platform was used to send out pertinent information to Nigerians signed up to U-report (U-reporters) and were able to save millions of lives by disseminating life-saving information.”

She noted, “U-RNVM once ran a poll on safety in schools and the results from the poll was disseminated to the National Orientation Agency (NOA) which appropriated funds to improve safety in schools in certain parts of the country. Currently, we have the Office of the Vice President as partners on the platform and they use U-report to send out and gather information from over 1.7 million Nigerians on the platform. In addition, we are working with Civil Society Organizations, the media, International Non-Governmental Organizations to use poll results to push for social accountability.”

In assessing 2016 Polls, 94 per cent of participants admitted that U- report polls have increased their awareness while 93 per cent percent agreed that U- report could contribute to positive change in Nigeria. However, she disclosed that the programme has some technical challenges and setbacks toward the full achievement of its goals. For example, if a particular mobile network operator has any operational hitch, it affects the flow of the messages to and from U-reporters and this sometimes means that not everyone receives the poll questions and not everyone who would have loved to respond would have the opportunity to do so. Thankfully, this only happens on very rare occasions.”

In her submission, part of the objectives of the platform is to influence and see that government take action to address social issues such as unemployment, improved healthcare, better roads, better schools, improved security, raised via U-report. To this end, Udoh believed that government could tackle a number of socio-economic vices the country is currently facing by involving and consulting with stakeholders. “Consultation is a major part of good governance and Nigerians are the key stakeholders. Therefore, it is important for government to reach out to the people through traditional town hall meetings, as well as, the modern digital social media platforms, which will enable effective communication, citizens’ involvement, participatory governance and work towards tackling the various issues they raise. This strategy will discourage prescriptive governance”, she added.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. The organ was created with a distinct purpose in mind: to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.

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