Nigerian NGOs and the Culture of Self Aggrandizement

By Joseph Anyebe

Formation and activities of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are as old as Nigeria’s independence. Over the years, the country has given birth to hundreds of NGOs with genuine intentions and good reports to show for it. But lately, NGO in Nigeria has become a charade and fake organisations being championed by some individuals to attract local and international grants. In some cases, the NGOs have also become tools, with which a few individuals are throwing spanner to the working of governments and promising business organisations. Over time, some opinion writers have linked the proliferation of NGOs in Nigeria to the failure of the states to provide specific services and opportunity for citizens and the constant need to bridge the noticeable gaps. I beg to disagree. Yes, governments at various levels have failed in some areas but it is pertinent for responsible citizens to think out of the box on how to join hands with their leaders to solve problems not to aggravate it. A situation where some Nigerians formed themselves into groups and allow others to use them to kill the economy is not in the interest of all. Again, one cannot rule out excessiveness on the part of some companies but the way to correct them is not to lunch attacks that will wreck the economy, rather through a constructive manner. Besides, the records are everywhere of how a few responsible companies have been taken to the cleaners, simply because some individuals believe they deserve personal gains.

From Banking to Aviation, Telecommunications to manufacturing, time to time, faceless organisations spring up on the bill of a few money bags to demarket the activities of promising brands. If there is any recent development that has revealed the insincerity of the made-in-Nigeria NGOs, it is simply how some people have become anti tobacco fighters over night. Against all the good reasons for which such organizations are known for, these organizations appeared to have overstretched their luck in attempts to sponsor campaign calumny against tobacco manufacturing companies. In planning and execution, their approaches are purely against international laws and standards.

One thing that points to the fact that some NGOs in the country are self-serving organizations is how the interpretation given to the provision in the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) which recommends that there should be a Tobacco Control Unit desk in the Ministry of Health which should be manned by a staff of the Ministry but as I write this, it is manned by someone from an NGO (probably someone from CTFK- Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids). This is fundamentally wrong for an NGO to be using taxpayers’ money and resources to run its activities.

Another recent example is germane to this discussion. Few years ago, there was a clash between Nigerian Breweries and Guinness Nigeria over market control in some locations in Lagos, especially Oluwole Estate in Ogba and National Theatre premises, Iganmu. In a jiffy, an unknown NGO, that had no history prior to that period suddenly appeared from the blue to campaign for one of the warring parties. Since then, nothing has been heard about the organisation. At the end, it was discovered that they were hired by one of the companies to fight dirty.

Also recently, a National Commissioner and member of the Information and Voter Education Committee at INEC, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, who briefed journalists after a meeting of the leadership of the commission Haruna accused a non-governmental organisation identified as West African Network of Election Observers made up of retired INEC officials was used to bribe INEC staff to influence the outcome of the 2015 general elections. According to him “There was a clear attempt to bribe INEC staff to influence the outcome of the 2015 general elections using an NGO, West African Network of Election Observers, made up mainly of retired senior INEC officials. He said the NGO involved in the scandal had been barred from all INEC activities.”

Back to the issue of anti tobacco campaign which has generated so much debate. It is a known fact that tobacco control advocacy is a heavily funded activity hence an extremely attractive venture for many anti-tobacco lobbyists. Whilst majority of the stakeholders involved in tobacco control policies agree that industry regulation is extremely important, the successes recorded in the tobacco control debate over the past decade is often at variance. In some instance, studies have shown that tobacco consumption especially in the western world has decreased and focus has now shifted to the developing world, in other studies, it has been found that smuggling in tobacco has negated the effects of tobacco control policies. Even more frightening is the fact that tobacco smuggling is controlled by those who perpetuate the acts of terror.

Whilst the whole world waits eagerly for solutions to the perceived issue of tobacco scourge, anti-tobacco lobbyists adopt the strategies of smear campaigns, believing that the uglier the industry looks the more difficult it is for them to operate. The concept of effective policy control, however, belies this strategy. Has it has been proven without a shadow of a doubt that industries like the tobacco and alcohol are part of the solution and not outside of it. The tactics of the anti-tobacco lobbyists, however, also belies the intent and motives and expected outcomes from their campaigns. The aggression with which they push for a cause seems totally unconnected to the need for reduction of consumer intake of tobacco. The tactics and lack of depth of their various and seemingly spurious media allegations underscores the amount of funding which is often at their beck and call.

One of the main funders of the anti-tobacco lobbyists, Bloomberg, lists as amongst the recipients of the donations received as organisations like Environmental Rights Action ‘ERA’. It was stated that they received a total of $657,960 between the period of September 2007 to November 2009, this funding was meant for ‘a consolidated campaign for passage of FCTC implementation bill’. This amount translates to over a whooping N100 million (one hundred million Naira).

In the period between 2010 – 2012 they received a total of $297, 456 (N47, 592, 960.00), in period Aug 2007 – August 2007; they were given another $32, 225 (N5, 156, 000.00) for the same purpose. Of course, this explains why NGOs are falling over one another to add their voice.

This is not to say however that NGOs have no role to play in shaping our thought or influence governments. Nationally and internationally, they indeed have crucial roles in helping and encouraging governments into taking the actions to which they have given endorsement in international fora. Increasingly, NGOs are fast becoming advocate for good governance and human rights protection. No wonder, NGOs are now essentially important actors before, during, and after, governmental decision-making sessions.

In Nigeria, these non-profit making organizations have, on several occasions, put successive governments and corporate organisations on their toes. Most importantly, NGOs have successfully collaborated with governments in the development of rural areas in Nigeria. This is necessary because there is an increasing desire for the development of rural areas as a result of its strategic importance. On the other hand, they have helped in galvanizing support for the implementation of government policy.

But today, there is sharp difference between what NGOs should do and what their promoters are using them for in this part of the world. A number of observers have pointed to a gradual shift in the activities of development NGOs, from a welfare orientation to self serving associations. Various factors have been cited as contributors to this shift. One is recognition of the inadequacy of trying to deal with symptoms while the underlying problems remain untouched. It reflects the constant challenge to voluntary organizations to re-examine their strategies in a rapidly changing environment.

One important aspect of the problem is that some NGOs are being used to cripple the economy as a result of their approach to issues bothered on goods and services. It is sad that some individuals will today register and funded by some individuals to move against a good course, simply because it doesn’t align with their interest. This explains why suddenly one begin to see Nigerians in various demographics being lined up like school pupils at National Assembly, house of assemblies or even state government secretariats to champion unpopular courses for a few individuals who obviously pay the bill.

In my own opinion, I feel that in a way, it appears that the issue of tobacco control has suddenly been hijacked from government by some individuals and organizations for selfish interests. Much as we all know that anti tobacco campaign is a global issue, Nigeria’s version appears too confrontational and combative with no focus on the very people they need to protect – the young ones

Among others, the canvass for immediate imposition of a minimum of 150 per cent special levies on all tobacco products is unimaginable, just as the call that tobacco should be totally excluded from grants and other government incentives. The list is almost endless.

The time has come for Nigeria to rise up and challenge the source of funding of these organizations. As things are, it appear the NGOs in Nigeria have tactically ignored the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty, which was adopted over a decade ago “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”

Given the importance of these organizations, it is therefore necessary at this stage of our national development to provide direction when it seems they are not getting it right. In recent time, NGOs are becoming tools in the hands of a few individuals in Nigeria to achieve personal goals.

Sometimes, one is tempted to ask if promoters of some NGOs in Nigeria are still in tune with some of the definitions of such organizations. For instance, one common definition is that; they include many groups and institutions that are entirely or largely independent of government and that have primarily humanitarian or cooperative rather than commercial objectives. They are private agencies in industrial countries that support international development; indigenous groups organized regionally or nationally; and member-groups in villages. NGOs include charitable and religious associations that mobilize private funds for development, distribute food and family planning services and promote community organization. They also include independent cooperatives, community associations, water-user societies, women’s groups and pastoral associations. Citizen Groups that raise awareness and influence policy are also NGOs.

In Nigeria, there is no gain saying the fact that some individuals are bank rolling some scrupulous NGOs to achieve their personal interests. This must stop. Government and its agencies should be cautious in their relationship with NGOs. Before giving attention to some organizations, it may be necessary to first scrutinize their profiles and know the motive behind their moves.

Anyebe, a public affairs analyst is based in Lokoja, Kogi State


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