Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria, have called for understanding from the government, as they continue to assist towards addressing the country’s developmental challenges.
This was stated at a Conference on the Impact of CSOs in Nigeria, organised by the Centre for Development and Democracy (CDD) with support from the European Union – Agents for Citizen-driven Transformation (EU-ACT) through the British Council on Tuesday in Abuja.
Mr Jaye Gaskia, a CSO member and researcher while presenting the findings on CSO impact in Nigeria, said that CSOs often find themselves pitted against government and the people while performing their critical role as agents of change.
Gaskia said that this happened through hostile regulatory frameworks, anti-CSOs mobilization, and disinformation campaigns, calling into question their relevance.
He added that generally, genuine CSOs were either primarily involved in advocacy or service delivery with some combining both.
“CSOs have played and continue to play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s development, particularly in the past 20 years following the country’s transition to democratic governance when CSOs exploded on the scene.
“For most Nigerians, particularly the poor and vulnerable, CSOs have stepped in to replace a receding, and in some cases, a non-existent state with respect to the delivery of basic, often life-saving services.
“The contributions of CSOs to development are most visible in the following areas: service delivery, advocacy campaigns, sensitization and knowledge creation, watchdog of power, civic engagement, employment creation among others,” Gaskia said.
He said that the report, therefore, underscored the need for states, CSOs and the private sector actors to work together to address Nigeria’s myriad developmental challenges as no one sector can tackle them alone.
He said that the study concluded that states and CSOs were not only complementary, but bear far greater responsibility to the most vulnerable in society who the profit-driven private sector may not feel obligated to support.
He, therefore, advised the CSOs to improve their community and citizen engagement strategies and mechanisms, to ensure the inclusion and participation of all stakeholders in their programming from conception and design to all the implementation phases.
He added that state actors should understand that civil society engagements, including when they were raising demands for accountability and transparency, were in the best interest of society.
He urged CSOs to engage in constructive criticism, proffering options and alternative solutions when necessary.
The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) spokesperson, CP Frank Mba, said that the meeting was important because it would enable the government to continue to assess the CSOs properly.
Mba said that it would also help to project the strengths of CSOs and the areas where they have challenges and to project into their future.
He said that CSOs had done credibly well in Nigeria in key areas of legislators’ capacity building among others.
`For instance, the recent legislation on the treatment of gunshot victims has been championed for a long time by CSOs and today we have a law.
“In the Nigeria police force, we have also seen CSOs carrying out research on critical national issues and sharing some of those research findings with us and those findings have also helped us in formulating policies and developing customised security solutions,” he said.
Mba said that although CSOs played vital roles, it was also important to keep reminding them of the need to play by the rules and stay focused to their objectives without allowing themselves to play the disruptive part to national security.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Department of State Services (DSS) Dr Peter Afunanya urged the CSOs not to see themselves as alternate government or run their activities as an opposition political party.
Afunanya said encouraged CSOs to engage in proper advocacy and educate citizens correctly in line with the constitution.
“You will say you are educating people, mobilising communities for human rights, constitutional rights, fine, that is very wonderful but then no right is inelastic.
“So, if you are telling somebody that he has right of freedom of speech also tell the person that his rights do not include slander and label and if you are telling someone that you have right of freedom of movement, tell them their movement could be curtailed when there is need impose curfew.
“This is because those who only understand that they have rights do not understand the inhibiting laws on their rights so make the education complete,’’ he said.
Mr Idem Udoekong, Component 2 Manager, Agents for Citizen-Driven Transformation (ACT) one of the partners of the event said his organisation supported CDD in the research because there was no evidence of the contribution of CSOs in Nigeria.
Udoekong said that the perception of CSOs in Nigeria was wrong and there was need to change the narrative by coming up with findings on their impact.
He said that CSOs could use the findings of the report to influence laws and carry out advocacies to continue to advance the civic space in Nigeria.
Mr Austin Aigbe CDD’s Senior Program Officer, said that the research was conducted to interrogate the impact of CSOs in Nigeria because of the misconception and fake impression about what CSOs were.
Aigbe said that one of the findings of the report was that CSOs have been able to contribute to removing people from unemployment due to the number of people they employed.
“Our work has improved elections in Nigeria, there was a time in this country where vote is still going on and results would be announced today it is no longer so,’’ he said.
Aigbe said that the pressure from the CSOs had led to reforms and amendment of laws adding that the Police Act was the product of CSOs agitation and advocacy for reform in the defense and anti-corruption fight.
Aigbe said that CSOs are not anti-government nor adversary to the government but played complimentary role and support government that was why it was why they were called Non-Governmental Organizations.