27th February, 2014, NGOs the world over gathered at Helsinki, Finland; to mark this year’s world NGO day. At this gathering, one of its thematic bent was the assessment of MDGs, especially the achievement of universal basic education as 2015 which is a milestone for MDGs draws close.
We shall in this piece contribute to the universal discourse by examining the role of NGOs in ensuring the protection and enjoyment of human rights, good governance, social justice and the attainment of the MDGs. Also, we shall undress the challenges NGOs face in their efforts to achieve their diverse aims and objectives.
Essentially, NGOs are bridge-builders; linking human rights provisions on paper to human rights enjoyment in practice and reality. Without their humanitarian and philanthropic drive, human rights would have remained an illusion; a mere prep talk; a promise of heaven in hell. These non-profit organizations in whatever sector they’ve functioned have been on the fore-front of questioning economic, socio-cultural and political status quo; demanding social justice, equity and empowerment etc. A classical example of such efforts is the Grameen Bank started by Muhammed Yunus who got fed up with teaching economic theories when bottom-bottom poverty abound. He, assisted by a group of his students decided to go to villages in Bangladesh to help poor women with non-interest loan – an attempt to draw them out of the well of chronic poverty. Surprisingly, the poor women of Bangladesh paid back the loans! Encouraged by the hard-work, thrift and sincerity of the women; the Grameen Microfinance Bank was founded to cater to the poor. Not long, this successful microfinance model was supplanted all over the world. And Muhammed Yunus, the Grammen Bank and the poor women of Bangladesh clinched the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for their effort. Without many words, their work has helped to reduce drastically extreme poverty which is No. 1 goal of the MDGs in one of the poorest nations of the globe.
However, we deem it critical to draw attention to the visible set-back in the attainment of Universal Primary Education (MDGs Goal 2) in Benue state, Nigeria. Now, for over 4 months, primary schools have been shut down due to a protracted Teachers’ Union strike over the non-implementation of a paltry minimum wage of N18, 000. At the beginning of the strike, the pupils reacted by organizing a peaceful protest that was brutally squashed by the police in Makurdi, Benue state. One must note that at the time of writing, over 100,000 primary school pupils are still at home, idling away; while some others are on the streets hawking wares when they are supposed to be in school learning. With this ugly scenario, how do we hope to meet the 2015 deadline for MDGs Goal 2 target of ensuring that by 2015, children every where, boys and girls will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling? Now, the universal basic education scheme is aimed at “reducing the incidence of drop out from the formal schools system through improved relevance, quality and efficiency”. But more essential is the “acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeric manipulative, communicative and life skills as well as ethical, moral and civic values required for a solid foundation in life long learning”.
Thus, we vehemently decry such lackadaisical posture of Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue state towards the demands of teachers who are the gatekeepers of knowledge. Such attitude runs contrary to the Spirit of Education for All (EFA) which African leaders sanctioned in Dakar, at the 2000 World Education Forum and the MDGs which are built to form a bulwark against poverty in these countries. If Africa or any country is to reclaim the future, such country must first empower the minds of her younglings through proper basic primary education which is free, qualitative and accessible to all. We would applaud Imo, Akwa Ibom and Osun states for being in the vanguard of this trend.
It’s necessary at this point to turn our search light to the challenges many NGOs face on the field of their work and activism. Paramount is the hurdle secrecy, red-tapism, and personal safety of advocates and activists. For example, Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers’ Alert (a right-based NGO) was coerce for fear of his neck to relocate from Makurdi to Abuja for demanding to know through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) how monies donated to flood victims of 2012 in the state were disbursed and utilized. The information brought was denied; the flood victims remain unsuccoured with devastated land and farm lands. Hence, we can sense that NGOs working in public interest sector especially in intolerant and illiberal democracies (such as Nigeria) face a mountain of safety and access to information to facilitate their work.
Another impediment to NGOs is the question of fund. It’s trite that any organization subsists on funding; this becomes heavier on non-profits that depend on grants, donation and subscription. The truth is, the sources of funds for NGOs are limited and largely based on the goodwill of donors. Apart from large international NGOs, many medium-size NGOs project budgets are under performed for lack of adequate funding. To cross this red sea, governments individuals, and communities would do well to set-up endowment funds for NGOs work which are on the trenches moving society forward. Now, NGOs on their part must explore alternative sources of fund instead of relying heavily on foreign donor bodies. They can mimic BRAC and Grameen model for self-sufficiency in funding. Also, NGOs must engage with their host community; liase with them on projects that will better their lives. And yes, NGOs should start using Social Media to raise funds for their causes. That’s where people stay now.