Some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria, have called for understanding from the government, saying they are not necessarily anti-state and would continue to the society towards addressing the country’s developmental challenges.
They said this on Tuesday in Abuja at conference on the Impact of CSOs in Nigeria, organized 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.
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A CSO member and researcher, Mr Jaye Gaskia, 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 even in the interest of the society.
Gaskia said that this happened through hostile regulatory frameworks, anti-CSOs mobilization, and disinformation campaigns, calling into question their relevance.
“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 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 also urged CSOs to engage in constructive criticism, proffering options and alternative solutions when necessary.
On his part, the spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Mr Frank Mba, said that the meeting was important as it 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 well in Nigeria in key areas of legislator’s capacity building among others.
He said, “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 customized security solutions.”
Also, the spokesman 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 also urged CSOs to engage in proper advocacy and educate citizens correctly in line with the constitution.
“You will say you are educating people, mobilizing 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,” he said.
The CDD’s Senior Programme Officer, Mr. Austin Aigbe, 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.
He 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,” Aigbe said.
He also 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.
The Component 2 Manager, Agents for Citizen-Driven Transformation (ACT), Mr Idem Udoekong, said his organization 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.