By SOLA OGUNDIPE
Towards encouraging developmental programming and services in Nigeria, U-report, a new, free SMS-based communications technology developed by UNICEF Nigeria, is engaging Nigerians towards establishing and enforcing accountability in governance, health, education, the environment and other areas of community endeavour through social mobilisation.
The initiative which utilises the SMS platform of mobile phone technology enables a voice for those Nigerians especially youths who are often left out of the decision making process to have a voice.
Currently thousands of volunteer U-reporters who share their observations and ideas on wide-ranging development issues in a way that demand response and accountability from those concerned are being engaged.
The U-report platform is expected to garner support for Nigeria’s efforts to attain the helth-related Millennium Development Goals, MDGs and growth. It can be used to empower people to develop health issues that really matter to them such as sanitation and other social welfare issues.
In a chat, Caroline Barabwoha, U-report Set Up Consultant for for UNICEF Nigeria, described the initiative as “promising” in Nigeria.
Caroline, who previously worked on the U-report in Uganda for three years said the inspiration behind the idea was the need for community engagement and participation in issues that affect them for development to take place.
“Right now the trend is very promising for Nigeria, judging from the experience of other countries in Africa, many of which have taken over one year to get up to 3,000 volunteer U-reporters.
“In Nigeria, in just a matter of five weeks over 5,000 volunteers have been engaged. Currently there are over 9,000 U-reporters in the country. The goal is to have up to f ive million reporters in the country by the end of the year,” she stated.
As a young person, Caroline is inspired to ensure that as many young Nigerians as possible are part of U-report. By using a tool such as a mobile phone which everyone has in every household, and in every community, people who are often left out of decision making now have a powerful voice to speak out and be heard.
There is no charge at all for a U-reporter to send any message. Weekly polls are sent out on Wednesday and results are shared on Monday. It is simple to use and alreqady plans are on to introduce local languags such as Hausa, Pidgin, Igbo and Yoruba to ensure no one in the community is left out.
“It’s easy to become a member. All it takes is to sign up by texting “JOIN” to 24453. You can join as long as you have a cell phone that is connected to any of the networks, Airtel, MTN, Etisalat and Glo. All messages are free of charge.”
Compared to other countries, one strong point we have seen with Nigeria is the existence of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members gives strong potential compared to other countries.
“In Uganda where I come from, this platform does not exist. The NYSC being our first partner, is a very good entry point and a strong potential because we are looking at the possibility of over one million corpers joining over the course of one year.
“If each of them is reaching about five others, that is a very strong potential to spread out and you cannot ignore the power of the youth in a country like Nigeria where a huge population are youths,” she asserted