With the support of the Lab’s incubator program, Wilson Atumeyi’s WaterWide NPO is working hard to hold government authorities accountable for ensuring that even the most marginalized communities have safe drinking water. By Kibo Ngowi

Growing up in Plateau State, Wilson Atumeyi learned from a young age that access to clean water was a pipe dream for many Nigerians. While he was in secondary school he and his classmates would often be sent to fetch water miles away from wells that had been sunk by farmers for the purpose of watering crops. One child would have to physically go down into the well and pass up the water to the others.

“This never sat well with me,” recalls Wilson. “We were at a government school so it made me wonder what the government was doing. Moreover, if a government school didn’t have access to clean water then what about the average citizen? This experience sparked my interest in ensuring everyone could have access to clean water.”

Wilson went on to work as a Communications Officer for Connected Development – also known as “Follow The Money” – an NPO that tracks government spending on education, health and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). He later moved onto the International Centre for Investigative Reporting where he worked as a Social Media Strategist and Communications Officer.

“With all the experience I had gained, I decided to start something that would create the kind of change I wanted to see in Nigeria,” explains Wilson “So, in May 2019 I established WaterWide (Water With Development), my own NPO dedicated to tracking government spending and international aid for water, sanitation and hygiene in rural communities. It was the culmination of a passion I had since the age of 11.”

Wilson had been aware of Accountability Lab for years but it was only after he established his organization that he learned about the accountability incubator program. It was while networking at a meeting organized by Africa Practice to launch their Takwimu platform that he met someone who told him about the incubator. Wilson read more about the program online, decided to apply and was accepted as part of the 2020 cohort of accountapreneurs in Nigeria.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” says Wilson. “From the beginning, I recognized it was exactly what I needed. I thought I was at level 70% in forming my organization but after the first few lectures, I realised I was at 30%. I realised that what I already knew was valid but it wasn’t measuring up to the global standard. I infused what I learned into my organization and the increase in the rate of growth has been phenomenal.”

The program has exposed Wilson and his team to certain tools and resources that have made them more effective. For instance, through the incubator, Wilson learned about an advertising grant worth USD10,000 per month offered by Google so they applied and in the last two weeks WaterWide was approved to have the monthly advert grant through October of this year. Additionally, they have been given access to G-Suite for unlimited users at 30GB of space per user.

WaterWide now has a core staff of seven people, including its founder, and a network of more than 1,200 volunteers across Nigeria. The volunteers are especially important as the organization’s core work is around advocating for marginalized communities to gain access to clean water. Whenever the team is informed about a community in need, they call on their network of volunteers in the region to investigate so they can get first-hand information from the ground.

One such community was the town of Tika in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the total population of over 2,000 people had no access to safe water. After being tipped off in March this year, Wilson and his team went into the community without informing anyone they were coming and the situation they found was dire.

“Once I saw with my own eyes what they were going through I knew we had to act so I recorded the scene, edited it at home and then started sharing it on social media,” explains Wilson. “We tried communicating with the Chairman of the Local Government Area Council but didn’t hear anything. Finally, we got a response from the Minister of State from the office of the FCT. They promised to intervene but from our experience dealing with authorities, we knew promises could sometimes be empty. So, we kept following up with them and sharing the story online. Within a week they drilled a borehole in the community.”

WaterWide’s work is constant. Currently, the organization is tracking a project valued at over N200 million in Yobe State. The project involves drilling 11 solar-powered boreholes and 74 hand pump boreholes across eight local governments. Wilson’s team had sent an FOI (Freedom of Information) request to the implementing team and have been monitoring the project closely.

Access to clean water and sanitation has become all the more important in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, so Wilson is also leveraging the support of the Lab to produce a documentary titled “Unheard Voices” to raise awareness. “The aim of the documentary is to amplify the voices of people who do not have access to clean water during this time,” explains Wilson. “Handwashing is emphasised but many people don’t have safe water. Production has been made possible through a USD500 grant from the Lab and we’re already done with shooting. We’ve started the editing process and aim to release it sometime in August.

The incubator program has availed me with several opportunities that have moved me from stage A to stage B. The learnings I take from the training sessions are not just for me but also for WaterWide and all the communities we work with. So, whenever I get training through the incubator I do the same training for my team. I know after the program there will be more room for opportunities and we will be bigger and better as an organization.”

This publication was originally published on Accountability Lab on 29th July 2020.