Extractives remediation & public health — open data advocacy in Nigeria

Following a recent lead poisoning epidemic in the Zamfara State of Northern Nigeria — the result of the local artisanal gold mining operations — local non-profit organisation Follow The Money took immediate action against their corrupt local government who they presumed was not distributing aid funds fairly. They launched the #SaveBagega initiative that relied heavily on visualizations and reports based on public data — some of which was open data and some of which they opened up through their campaign efforts — showing clearly where the previously released disaster relief funds should have gone. A global media outcry ensued and in January 2013, the voices of the people of Bagega had reached about 1 million people. Their story had been told by about 50 media organizations. By the end of January 2013, the federal government of Nigeria released about $5.3 million for the cleanup of Bagega from the Ecological Funds, through the Ministry of Finance.

Follow the Money then worked to visualize the movement of these funds on their website, and made regular visits to Bagega recording and reporting the impact on the community at each stage. By March 2013, the campaign was a success and the cleanup of Bagega started, and simultaneously, the screening and treatment of hundreds of children commenced. In July 2013, the remediation of Bagega ended, and about 981 children in Bagega have been screened since April 22, with 941 on track for admission into the treatment program, and another 181 already undergoing chelation therapy.

Follow the Money transformed publicly available data into a compelling narrative and advocacy campaign that lead directly to the government reversing course and taking action to help the local populations. It’s their hope that this ground breaking work will provide a future platform for advocacy around local extractive and other important national issues, and that they can leverage the power of open data to prevent future incidents like this tragic one from ever occurring again.


In 2010, an unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State of Northern Nigeria. More than 2000 children were severely poisoned and an estimated 400 children died as a result of lead absorption associated with artisanal gold mining/processing within residential compounds of several remote villages. Many international organizations (eg. World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) also known as Doctors without Borders, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)) and the Nigerian Federal and Zamfara State agencies, and local governments collaborated in providing emergency medical, environmental, technical and public health responses. By the end of the remediation exercise in March 2011, about USD 2.3million had been spent in doing soil remediation as part of Phase I (Dareta and Yargalma villages) and Phase II (Abare, Tungar Daji, Duza, Sunke, Tungar Guru villages).

Unfortunately, Bagega, located roughly 33 km from Anka town, was the only village left out due to lack of funds (although it was supposed to be covered by the original funds released) and remained unremediated. The district comprised of more than 8000 people, including approximately 1500 children of less than 5 years of age with potentially dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. In order to save the lives of these children, TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering in conjunction with the Zamfara Ministry of Environment submitted a proposed budget of about USD $2.7 million to the Federal Ministry of Environment in Nigeria on the 1st of May 2012. At the end of May, President Goodluck Jonathan pledged USD $4 million to clean up the lead contamination. However, these funds were not released for many months after that.

What Follow the Money did

In September 2012, the Follow the Money team was brought on board by Doctors without Borders and other stakeholders in Zamfara to help advocate for the release of the funds and later track how the funds are been utilized within the community.

The team visited Dareta in October 2012, to discover the current condition of things in the communities that were affected by lead poisoning, and followed that up with a visit to Bagega to further assess the situation on the ground. They also presented the proposed budget data to the community in a simple offline format to get input on where spending was most required.

In October, the Follow the Money team joined the Zamfara state stakeholders meeting on lead poisoning at the conference hall of Bright Minerals and Mining Company, Damba. Through the meeting they gained the support of important local government officials and was given more details of the situation in Bagega, and the struggle to get the funds released.

Social media campaign

In November 2012, the #SaveBagega project was integrated into the Follow the Money website, and the team published simple data visualisations and mapping showing exactly where previously released funds should have gone. Later, in collaboration with the Human Right’s Watch, the Follow the Money team also integrated the campaign on social media platforms, and spread the word through SMS, to help amplify the voice of the ailing community in Bagega. Public were encouraged to comment directly on President Goodluck Jonathan’s official Facebook page, and sign an online petition form on their website with the intention of presenting all signatures to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At the end of December, the team released an online report containing data visualisations, and documenting the situation, their work, and experiences in the last few months, to encourage more of the public to join them in advancing the cause of the people of Bagega village.

By January 2013 the story of Bagega had been picked by about 50 local and international media outlets. The Facebook and Twitter campaigns reached about 1,000,000 people including important government agencies. At the end of the month, the Nigerian Government finally released about 850 million Nigerian Naira (approximately USD 4.2 million), and thus the environmental cleanup activities in Bagega – spearheaded by environmental engineering company TerraGraphics – and the treatment of those affected by the lead poisoning, led by Doctors without Borders, finally begun.

Visualising and tracking the funds

The Follow the Money team scraped the available data from the ministries and the media, and where this was not available they obtained the necessary data through FOI requests. They then visualised the released funds, its allocation, and the progress of the activities in the form of a simple tracker on their website which was updated regularly. Alongside this, they continued their regular visits to Bagega, both connecting with community, and working with stakeholders, to ensure that the funds reached the community and were used in appropriate ways.

On their website they displayed qualitative data – generated from their community outreach activities, in form of pictures and videos, and surveys recorded through mobile devices – of the community and the impact the funds were having on them, to both ensure the campaign was driven by community needs, and to keep up the public pressure. They also regularly presented the gathered data in simpler offline formats to the community themselves to show clearly how the funds were being appropriated and encouraging their active participation in the campaign. Through regular media campaigns and stakeholder meetings the team also encouraged the Government and other involved parties to continue the remediation as an emergency response.

On the 5th of July 2013 the remediation of Bagega came to an end. The clean up of about 450 compounds and 4 hectares of land area was carried out in this time by the Ministry of Environment, with Terragraphics Foundation acting as a consultant. 981 children in Bagega were also screened since April 2013, while 181 children had undergone chelation therapy. Later that month the Follow the Money team released another report called ‘When you make Government spending work, nothing works like it!’, with complete details of the campaign, and a breakdown of their advocacy and data visualization works and learnings during this period.

*This story is based on an Interview with Oludotun Babayemi, the founder of the #SaveBagega initiative, a School of Data Fellow, and the winner of the 2014 Partnership for Open Development impact stories competition.