NED Partner Strengthens Nigerian Democracy with Data

Dataphyte founder Joshua Olufemi speaks at an event on the role of open data in strengthening Nigerian democracy during his Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship in 2019.

In today’s interconnected world, data feels like it is always one internet search away. A journalist, businessperson, or concerned citizen can easily discover population in a specific area, school enrollment, or economic growth rates. Data can also be a critical tool for democracy, empowering civil society organizations to hold governments accountable while helping governments to make policies that better serve their citizens. However, in many developing countries such as Nigeria, data is not open, accessible, or transparent. As Nigeria looks ahead to elections in 2023, reliable information will be more important than ever to combat disinformation and improve confidence in the results. Dataphyte —a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) partner— is a unique data journalism platform that works to provide citizens, civil society, and businesses with access to open data and data storytelling.

“Public data and knowing how to use it are crucial resources for driving socio-economic change,” said Joshua Olufemi, Dataphyte founder and publisher. “In more worrisome circumstances, the inadequacy of data has been weaponized by various interests to misinform the people along the lines of religion, ethnicity or regionalism.”

After years working as an investigative journalist in Nigeria, Olufemi saw a need for an online hub to collect and analyze data to improve transparency and accountability in the country. Olufemi developed the concept for Dataphyte, a data journalism platform inspired by data news sites such as FiveThirtyEight, during his Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship at NED in 2019—then launched the organization in 2020.  [Watch Olufemi speak about the need for data journalism and open data in Nigeria.]  

Dataphyte has published several data visualizations ahead of the 2023 elections, including this map showing voter registrations by state.

“The need for open data touches on all aspects of governance, from government efficiency and accountability to political inclusion and economic reform,” said Christopher O’Connor, senior manager for Africa at NED. “Dataphyte’s work gathering and analyzing data is a very needed effort to address significant gaps in Nigeria.”

Today, Dataphyte has made significant progress in collecting data from across Nigeria. The organization operates an Open Data Portal, with over 800 downloadable datasets collected from governmental and non-governmental sources and provides training to civil society activists, journalists, and government officials to improve the use of data. In addition to collecting information, another important part of Dataphyte’s mission is to help the public make sense of the data the organization collects. Dataphyte publishes a weekly newsletter, visualizes data with Daily Data cards, and produces data-driven investigations that use data to promote government accountability. Several of Dataphyte’s stories have flagged suspicious prices in government contracts or state funded construction projects that were incomplete, or contractors were endangering local residents.

Ahead of closely-watched 2023 elections in Nigeria, Dataphyte is using data to report on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) permanent voter registration process. Olufemi said in the last off-cycle elections civic actors used data to track, flag and report irregularities.

“Open data will become even more critical as the election draws near especially in the face of heightened tension in the country,” Olufemi said. “Data can regulate election conversations and power transparency in election processes, essentially shaping narratives in the direction of the entrenchment of democracy in the electoral process.”