We recently crowdsourced questions (via #askameto) for Nigerian journalist Ameto Akpe. Ameto answered six of them via recorded video--you can watch below. Be sure to check back throughout the fall as we do more "Ask a Journalist" segments.
[0:00] Do you see a tension between accountability and contemporary political culture in Nigeria? -- Oko Ado
[1:36] Are there entrepreneurs in the water/sanitation space that are covering the gap left by the government? -- Initiative for Environmental Leadership at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (@WhartonIGEL) via Twitter
[2:35] Have the MDGs [Millenium Development Goals] helped to increase reporting and reader attention on water and sanitation? -- Oikos Student Reporter (@OikosReporter) via Twitter
[3:37] Has Nigeria contemplated or attempted [water] privatization? -- Austin Davis
[4:25] You cite population growth as a major challenge in Abuja. Why has the public utility been unable to adequately cope with this challenge? -- Austin Davis
[5:11] What is the question you are most asked when you visit schools? -- Martha
Thanks to all those who submitted questions! How do you think we did? Who do you want to see in the next "Ask a Journalist"?
Oko and Erin asked questions on transparency and accountability and contemporary politics in Nigeria. These are very complicated questions but simply put: transparency and accountability are different sides of the same coin. Transparency is very crucial. It’s a very strong anecdote to corruption. However, it isn’t not sufficient. It has to be complemented by accountability and leaders being responsible and ready to justify their actions and keeping proper records and data, systemically-created data and making this available to people so they could be involved in the debate of development among other things. There is a natural tension between transparency and contemporary politics in Nigeria because the contemporary politics is shrouded in secrecy and corruption has become a culture. I must say that Nigeria, if you look at the broader picture, it’s such a story in that for many years we were under military rule and really, during that time, accountability and transparency suffered. For a more detailed answer to this question, you should check out the Pulitzer Center website. There is a lot of material on this.
IGEL asked if there are entrepreneurs filling in the gap left by the government. Yes, you have water vendors, you have tanker drivers who provide, retail water to homes, individuals and businesses. However, if you look at this, it isn’t sustainable in the long run – a lot of times if you look what these individuals are playing in a month, it’s a lot more, it’s twice or three times what they would have paid if a more structured group was providing water. It should be utilities. So yes, there have been individuals who have filled the gap to a certain degreeb but looking at it critically, it isn’t sustainable. Something more has to be done and there are a lot of arguments for and against.
Oikos asked about MDGs [Millenium Development Goals] and increased reporting on water and sanitation in Nigeria. Indeed, the MDGs have brought a lot more focus on reporting on water and sanitation. A lot more people are reading about water and sanitation. However, I must note that a lot of times, the reporting isn’t balanced enough. A lot of times you see too much just the playing around with press releases from NGOs and government agencies and not enough investigative reports on what’s on the ground and what the people are going through. It’s not just about the commissioning of one borehole here and another borehole there. It’s about the process and the management of the sector. But in truth, in fairness, yes, it has increased the reporting on water and sanitation.
Austin asked about privatization and its potential to improve access. And privatization has been experimented with in certain states, specifically or most successfully in Cross River State in Nigeria. It has improved access and it has really sanitized the process and the system. However, there has been a lot of complaining, like you mention in your question about, you know, this increase in tariffs and the poor not being able to afford it. So it can work, however, it has to be backed with strong regulation, and regulation that takes into consideration consumer protection.
Austin also asked about population growth and the inability of the public utilities to manage this challenge. And really it’s all about the lack of adequate planning, you know, this inability to properly project and make provisions. Abuja is one of the major cities in Nigeria and you just know that it is going to attract a lot of people looking for jobs and then people running away from insecurity either in the north, northern part of the country or the southern part of the country. So this inability to properly plan and manage available resources properly to make available this crucial resource for the people.
So I get asked a whole range of questions when visiting schools, from general questions like "Did you play basketball in secondary school?" and some very specific questions about you know, gender and what it is like being a journalist in Nigeria, if I have personally gone through not having access to clean drinking water, so it’s a whole range of questions.