Nigeria: PARADIGM SHIFT FOR THE EFFECTIVENESS OF NIGERIAN CSOs

…….Victor TC Anyanwu

2014 marks Nigeria’s 100years of existence, with the evolution of various problems and developmental challenges far beyond what the new nation could have anticipated at the onset. Some of the general and peculiar problems and challenges being experienced by modern day Nigeria manifest in the mode of governance failure, and have elicited the emergence of non-state actors like our civil society organizations (CSOs), to try to make governments responsive. So, governance-focused CSOs are historically interventionist agents billed to meet some identified targets in the governance system. Thus, CSOs in the governance system are more interventionist and activist than purely humanitarian or social organizations and foundations.

This explanation is deemed necessary to properly situate the current focus and operations of Nigerian “good governance” NGOs since their relatively recent advent in the  late 1990s when Abacha’s very repressive regime demanded concerted efforts by activist organizations (like NADECO and Campaign for Democracy, CD)  to restore democracy. The logical follow-up is to assess the focus and effectiveness of our present CSOs in the face of burgeoning governments’ failures in virtually every aspect of governance. With governance failure epitomized by the prevalence of endemic corruption (financial malfeasance in particular) leading to infrastructure deficit and high unemployment rate, can the mushrooming of good-governance NGOs with a flurry of activities represent a score card of effectiveness on the part of Nigerian CSOs? The obvious negative answer certainly implicates a review of focus and strategy in this epochal 2014.

Nigerian CSOs/NGOs have come to be stymied in the quagmire of “establishment mentality”, whereby it becomes fashionable to merely pass through the motion of gaining recognition and visibility by performing form activities prescribed by donor agencies and “international best practices” of: “accountability”, “zero tolerance”, “transparency”, “anti-corruption”, “Due process monitoring”, “capacity building”, “empowerment/skills acquisition”, “communiqués”, etc, etc. But how have these form activities improved governance in critical areas like corruption and unemployment? Have CSOs been able to curtail organized theft in the budget cycle, for instance?  The obvious negative answers to the clear failings in these important performance indicators compel us to shift attention here from sterile analyses to recommending specific steps CSOs must take in 2014 to be more effective. Our major concern here is therefore to identify the key critical governance failure problems that can be addressed, and spell out strategies for achieving results.

For NGOs in the thematic areas of anti-corruption/public finance management/Due Process/Procurement monitoring, etc, the specific courses of action should be to:

  1. Make the ICPC, EFCC, Police, CCB and sister agencies effective and accountable.

  2. Drastically prune the 2014 recurrent budgets of the legislature and other MDAs – by proactively engaging the 2014 budget passage process at the three tiers of government. Public finance management coalitions like CWP must spearhead the satisfactory and timely completion of the Week of Action project at the federal, state and local council levels to ensure the drastic reduction of NASS’ reprehensible and unconstitutional N150bn budget theft, as well as those of other legislators and the Executive, for instance.

  3. Effectively campaign for the promulgation of the Procurement Council at the three tiers. Strategically, CSOs dedicated to Procurement/Due Process monitoring will achieve more tangible results by withdrawing from further participation in observing/monitoring the process until a Council is established according to Law.

  4. Insist on the domestication/endorsement of the FOIA by all tiers of government.

If CSOs adopt selected key projects as their strategic focus of engagement and collaboration, it will make it necessary and easier for them to discover appropriate structure and means for attaining the set goals. The current situation of individualistic operations has been patterned after a tradition of competing for donor-funded projects, and subsequent issuing of form communiqués to mark the end of a project. The current problems require cooperative coalitions that will pool programme funds for distribution to the “work-/ activity -centres” at the federal, state and local government levels. This operational design will spend less money on boarding and lodging at luxurious hotels; it recognizes the obvious fact that individual NGOs are severely limited in their ability to impact the gamut of governance failures confronting the Nigerian nation today.  Their individualistic operations have also led to the syndrome of enclave bourgeois NGO executives amongst a horde of largely discouraged applicants who at best become vociferous internet choir of critics or praise singers. The offshoot of these anomalies is a growing public distrust and perception of NGOs as entities that garner resources to feather their own nests: as such, it has become very difficult for credible NGOs to obtain internal/ local funding for even the most worthy causes in the society.

It is for the above and other reasons that CSOs must of necessity adopt a change of both focus and operational modality. In very specific terms:

  1. Let the anti-corruption coalitions join forces to spearhead a repositioning of the Police, EFCC, ICPC, CCB and sister security/anti-graft agencies for verifiable results in 2014. Donor funds could be pooled and distributed to the identified activity centres at the three tiers. The specific activities will include following-up  on pending court cases involving high profile public officials like Marc Wabara, Bankole, Farouk Lawan, and Hembe, as well as the Security Vote robbery, etc.

  2. Let the Citizens Wealth Platform (CWP) be legally constituted to spearhead a robust engagement of the Legislature at all tiers, with a minimum performance target of getting the 2014 budgets rid of all the identified acts of impunity in budgeting/public finance management.

  3. The Procurement Observers and Monitors coalition should anchor the advocacy/activities towards a successful campaign for the inauguration of the Procurement Council during the 2014 Budget cycle.

  4. The FOIA Coalition should lead the attack on the domestication/endorsement and observance of the FOIA in all MDAs across the three tiers.

  5. In any of the above and other sectored activities, there will of necessity be inter-coalition cooperation/collaboration. No doubt, this paradigm shift will equally need the buy-in of donors.

By taking the above strategic realignment of forces, good-governance CSOs will undoubtedly make themselves more effective and relevant in the common goal of improving the governance system in Nigeria. And if this tempo is improved upon and sustained, it will not take long to create an enabling environment that will spin up the abundant employment opportunities for the large number of youths currently forced into civil society activities to move into their areas of vocational calling and more productive career paths. Nigerian CSOs will do well to rediscover their focus and mission in 2014, and strategically realign their operational modalities for them to effectively confront the challenge of increasing failure in governance. Otherwise, they risk being affected by the same malady they came to cure.

Victor TC Anyanwu  is the Executive Director of  Citizens for Justice, Employment and Transparency  Port Harcourt Office.

Mobile: 08036676651

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