Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE) recently named among the 100 most influential people in digital government by Apolitical, recently hosted Seyi Anjorin and Glory Ekere of the The News Chronicle to an exclusive chat in his office where he challenged the National Assembly to expedite actions on the Amendment of the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill 2018, the Universal Basic Education Act amongst other sundry issues.
What is your reaction to your being named as one of the globally most influential people in digital governance?
There were two of us from Nigeria, Myself and Nneka but I am the youngest person on the list. I feel excited and honored but then again I feel challenged to do more because this is a global organization, and they have put me side by side world leaders; leaders of society and civil societies, heads of states and governments, ministers; I feel challenged and also inspired because I feel this will also serve as a point of reference to my peers to say, young people are truly not just changing the tides in their communities or country but we are making our impact in the world at large.
How well do you think the present generation can be inculcated into governance through digital means?
I think that with civic technology and internet penetration, we just have to keep evolving and innovating to ensure sure that young people who are engaged in social media can start to even get certified and getting information and learning on their mobile phone. I just feel this opportunity to skill up investment on infrastructure by the increased penetration, and also reduce the cost of internet and data, so that we can reach more communities and citizens will have a voice. The beauty about democracy is the participation and engagement, and if we can increased that investment, a lot of people who do not have a voice will a have a voice and then we will be able to participate actively.
Do you think the recent push for the Audit Bill to see the light of the day this year?
I feel strongly that it will see the light of the day, if we are able to unite our voice and hold them to account and demand from our lawmakers who are representing our interest demanding that in 2019, there will be polls and they will request for our votes; if they do not pass this very important legislation, we will not give them our vote. But then again, not just only this audit bill, also the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Amendment Bill. The senate passed the UBE amendment bill since July 2017, so we are just waiting for the House of Representatives to pass it so it can be harmonised and sent for the presidential assent. But then if we really want to fight corruption and want more investment in education particularly the young people, the UBEC Amendment bill is highly important. On the fight against corruption, the audit bill, is very important, presently we are a laughing stock in the international community because they think that we are not taking our fight against corruption very seriously to strengthen institution and then we are not having investment, plan or vision for our teeming young people to get skills and knowledge so we can confidently call them future leaders of this great nation.
Do you think approving more licenses for universities is really a solution to the problem in the education sector?
I think it is not about having institutions we can keep investing in building structures and classrooms but what about the learning, are our teachers adequately trained to transfer 21st century knowledge into these young people, do they have learning aid? Is the environment conducive, are the teachers and lecturers being paid properly? So it is not just about let us have more schools; the schools that we have, how much investment have we put into it, particularly budget appropriation, we have not even been able to meet the UNESCO standard and yet we want to put a whole lot of capital expenditure, so for me, it is about investment in learning, upgrading the curriculum and have syllabus that meets 22nd century challenges.
What is the update after the remediation programme in Shikira?
Shikira is done, it has been remediated; Over N250million was captioned in the 2015 budget which was allocated and released to the ministry of environment, and it was appropriately utilized under the leadership on Amina Mohammed before she left for her appointment. Right now, children living in Shikira; a lot of them have been discharged after administering treatment because the lead level in their blood have been reducing, the only ones remaining are just under observation but today I am happy to say that we have been able to save over 300 lives that could have died if this remediation has not been done and they did not get urgent medical attention. We also need to thank medicine sans frontier, which are the doctors without borders who had been on ground to administer this treatment free of charge to the children in Shikira community.
Aside the remediation, are there policies in place to discourage further form of illegal mining in the area?
I will not call it illegal mining though the federal government has put a ban on illegal mining but I call it unregulated mining and I think there is an opportunity here where we can enhance skills of these local miners who are only able to speak local language, I think they need institutions where they can go into this mining schools and they get thought how to mine properly using the right set of tools, this will help reduce the use of mercury, the exposure to contamination which might even lead to killing more children as a result of a contaminated environment. There is an opportunity here where they can go and get certification from this local schools where they are thought; and with these certificates, they can use it to get license, and another incentive is to use it to assess loan or credits and grants from the government and other developmental partners. I know that the ministry of mines and solid mineral had an international conference on lead poisoning and they have an ambitious policy because this event was attended by the Vice President who is currently acting and the Presidency is quite keen that we have a robust alternative, because the government right now is talking about diversifying the economy, knowing that Nigeria lost a lot of money from not regulating mining effectively. I also think that the 2007 mining Act needs to be reviewed, where the Act will meet current challenges and also proffer opportunities for our extractive sector.
How would you describe the present state of the Nigerian economy?
I think that we just need to see more transparency and accountability, today we have the excess crude account and they did quite a number of withdrawals without any clear information or clarification on why they were withdrawn for and the impact of the funds. I think that we need to see more of transparency and accountability at the extractive sector particularly the oil and gas both up and down stream. But I know that with the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, hopefully, this will also strengthen governance architecture of the NNPC but I believe that there are opportunities and there are prospects.
Do you really think the Nigerian youths stand a chance in the forthcoming 2019 elections?
I think that we should ask if other people or political parties who do not create an enabling environment for young people to run on their platform, particularly in giving them ticket and allowing them to march without bringing out the money politics, stand a chance in 2019 elections because over 52% of the eligible registered voters are between the age of 18 to 35, it means that the young people determine who becomes whobecomes the president of this country, state governors, lawmakers, so again what we are concerned is particularly, internal party democracy and ensure that people do not just get automatic tickets because it undemocratic and also we have taken our demand to political parties, both the major political parties and the new political parties and say that now is the moment for young people to aspire into political office and leadership, and if you do not give young people ticket, we will mobilize over 15million youths to vote against your party, so here we pose a challenge to them, an opportunity for them to show that they are youth friendly and youth driven and they are embracing the principles of intergenerational equity.
Do you really think the present generation of Nigerian youths are politically educated enough for the elective positions?
When our older generations want to go and save their money, they take it to the financial institution and when you see people call for application in the banks, you sometimes tell you not to apply if you are below the age of 30 and some if you are above 35, you cannot apply, it is the young people that are driving the financial sector. Let us go to the civic technology space, it is young people that are driving the sector, entertainment, the world knows Nigeria today because of our amazing music, it is young people that are making Nigeria proud outside this country. Even the civil society all organizations, all those young CEOs who are leading civil society organizations are the ones holding government to account to ensure that the voices of people in the communities are being heard by the government and ensuring that funds are being utilized appropriately. When it comes to politics, they talk about experience, in today’s world, world leaders are looking for ideas, because it is ideas that make nations to be great, the young people have the energy, idea and the manpower, so for us we are bringing new innovative thinking into political space, not chasing away the older politicians. What we are saying is that let us have neutral intergenerational ability, an equal playing field and let us allow the electorate decide which is truly democratic.
How would describe the Nigerian budget system?
Today, Nigeria is experiencing budget crisis because the budget cycle is experiencing crisis. There is a lot of deficit and again because our benchmark is majorly on oil and gas, not on agriculture so it means that the price of crude oil determines financing the budget. At the federal level, the budget is relatively very open and accessible by citizens but at the state and local government level, there is a lot of secrecy on their own budget, you will hardly find states that publish their budget or have it handy to give when the Freedom of Information requests for it, so I think there are more work to do to ensure that our budget is simplified, but particularly it captures the need and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
What do we expect from CODE before the end of the year?
Connected Development is striving at marginalized rural communities in Nigeria and across the African continent are being brought to the front burner, we will ensure that we shape debates around public policy and as we go into the 2019 where we are having townhall meetings we will ensure that we are on ground giving citizens adequate information so that they can be better informed and engage their intended policy makers appropriately, also we are hoping to expand to other African countries.