Project Update: Follow Taxes in Rural Nigeria and Togo

Saied Tafida Sulaiman is an alumnus of the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the U.S. government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. His team of Mandela Washington Fellows, Ounsougan Joel Ameyou, Maryam Muhammed, and Kinga Nadege Koulouar, received an Alumni TIES Small Grant for their project, Follow Taxes to the Rural Areas of Nigeria and the Republic of Togo. This project aims to expand the Follow Taxes platform to local Nigerian communities with limited internet access and to the Republic of Togo. The interactive Follow Taxes platform was designed to educate taxpayers about their rights and obligations, in addition to informing the public on how revenues are accrued and spent in Nigeria. The long-term goal of Follow Taxes is to improve fiscal transparency, social accountability, and curb corruption across sub-Saharan Africa.

Find out more about Follow Taxes and other Alumni TIES Small Grant projects from the Mandela Washington Fellows Alumni TIES on Strengthening Democratic Institutions in Public Management here.

Follow Taxes was created to improve fiscal transparency by simplifying the opaque nature of budgeting and taxation in West Africa. We use the simple and interactive Follow Taxes platform to educate taxpayers on their rights and obligations, as well as provide information on how government revenues are accrued and spent. Follow Taxes was awarded an Alumni TIES Small Grant to expand our reach to local communities who have no access to the internet through the use of local radio, distribution of hand bills, and community town hall meetings in Nigeria and Togo. Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by World Learning through a cooperative agreement. The project team participated in the Mandela Washington Fellows Alumni TIES held in Nairobi, Kenya on Strengthening Democratic Institutions in Public Management in April 2016.

The project yielded significant interest from people living in rural areas in West Africa on record keeping, taxation, and government spending. The team has received a sizeable number of questions and invitations from these rural areas to provide information on taxation and the government’s budget. The project’s success was measured based on three primary elements. Firstly, we received a positive reception in terms of stakeholder engagement and in the feedback from participants of the training. Secondly, our radio programs achieved a wider reach and we received multiple calls and text messages from the rural areas with specific questions and invitations to train different cooperative groups on how best to keep their records, pay taxes, and follow taxation funds through the government system. We have trained 27 different groups who reached us through our radio programs. Thirdly, the project secured additional partnership with other civil society groups around a shared purpose of enhancing fiscal transparency and building entrepreneurs with a better taxation knowledge. The project has successfully partnered with the Safiya Foundation, Ilimi House, BudgIT, PERL, and other youth forums to actualize our goal of building a better transparency culture within our communities.

Follow Taxes was also able to reach a greater audience as it was highlighted by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his trip to Nigeria in August 2016. The former Secretary of State spoke highly of Follow Taxes, its achievements, and its promising prospects in Nigeria and the greater region. The project has similarly benefited from its other partnerships. The radio program has reached more than 2 million listeners. The stakeholder’s engagement forum has created a network of trade associations and other stakeholders committed to building a culture of transparency in government spending and taxation. The project has created a direct question and mediation line between taxpayers and the tax authorities in cities where the project held its stakeholder engagements. Additionally, the project has secured a series of partnerships that will help it enhance its activities and sustainability over time. Presently, Follow Taxes is part of the working group for the implementation of the Nigeria National Action Plan on Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the steering committee in Kaduna State for improving fiscal transparency and social accountability. We continue to be hopeful about the positive change in fiscal transparency achieved through education on budgeting and taxation in West Africa and its prospects across the greater continent.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.