NGOs are agents of development, writes Jerome-Mario Utomi
The debate on the interrelatedness of equity, justice; peace and development is among the most presently discussed topic on the surface of the earth. The reason for this unending debate stems from the time-honoured belief that without equity and justice, there will be no peace. And without peace, no society, group or nation should contemplate development.
Accordingly, for any programme to be typified as development-based, development practitioners believe that such programme progress should entail an all-encompassing improvement, a process that builds on itself and involve both individuals and social change. It requires growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment.
As background to this piece, it is a public knowledge that throughout the early decades, the world paid little attention to what constitutes sustainable development. Such conversation, however, gained global prominence via the United Nations introduction, adoption and pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which lasted between the year 2000 and 2015. And was among other intentions aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger as well as achieving universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, among others.
Without going into specific concepts or approaches contained in the performance index of the programme, it is evident that the majority of the countries including Nigeria performed below average. And, it was this reality and other related concerns that conjoined to bring about 2030 sustainable agenda- a United Nations initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and cater for people, peace, planet, and poverty. And has at its centre; partnership and collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society.
Certainly, Nigeria is plagued with development challenges such as widespread poverty, insecurity, corruption, gross injustice and ethnic politics-and in dire need of attention from interventionists organizations (private and civil society organization) as demanded by the agenda. But, instead of the government’s passionate plea for sustainable partnership and productive collaboration receiving targeted positive responses from private organizations and Civil Society Organizations(CSO), such request often always elicits from critical minds and corporate organization nothing but jigsaw: If it has been said that government has no business in business, what business does the private sector have in helping the government to do its business of providing quality governance to the populace which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and the election of leaders conferred on them?
The reason for this state of affairs in my view may not be unconnected with transparency challenge on the part of the government. To the private and civil society organization, such response option offers a more considerably reduced risk as no organization may be disposed to investing in an environment that is devoid of transparency and accountability.
It may, therefore, not be a wrong assertion to describe as historic and something out of ordinary, the recent decision by the Kukah Centre (TKC), to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Management (IPSCM) of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, Taraba State. The reason in my view, being that it was neither the government precedence nor their well-ordered behaviour in the past, but the corporate culture of the Kukah Centre that informed the decision.
The MOU going by reports was the high point of a one day conference by The Kukah Centre in partnership with (IPSCM) supported by the Department of International Development (DFID) from the UK, and has as objective tackling conflict and ensuring sustainable peace and development in Taraba and beyond
Observably, like some other notable NGOs operating in the country, the Kukah Centre’s (TKC) corporate culture tends to reflect more on a nature of management system with vital role that one can safely characterize as people-purposed.
Standing as a telling proof to this claim is a similar declaration by the organization during a four-day workshop tagged ‘’Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement’’ for Christians and Muslims in Minna, Niger State, to introduce skill acquisition centres in the Northern part of the country where about 10 million Almajiri children will acquire vocations of their choice.
Indeed, there are ingrain lessons to draw from the above episode.
First, NGOs as speculated in some quarters, are not just another platform for disseminating falsehood, information, foodstuff and other relief materials that can be controlled at will. Rather, they are viable platforms for pursuing peace, truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas; in the same way, that government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances. It is a platform, in other words, for development that the government must partner with.
Another implication of this fundamental clarification is that it renders as unnecessary the recent announcement by Speaker Femi Gbajabamila during a debate on a motion brought under matters of urgent public importance on funding for security agents, that; ‘it has become imperative to revisit the NGO bill due to the activities of NGOs in the North-eastern part of Nigeria. Particularly, as the Nigerian Army recently accused some international humanitarian organisations operating in North-east Nigeria of allegedly ‘aiding and abetting’ Boko Haram terrorists’.
The bill in question was first submitted to the 8th Assembly, and seeks regulation of non-profitable organizations (NPOs) in Nigeria. And demands for the establishment of a regulatory commission that every NGO must be registered with, and sets out the requirements and procedure for registration.
Clear enough; but there are silent but vital points the lawmakers failed to remember. Most fundamental, aside from such arrangement opening the floodgate for victimization and undue censorship of these NGOs, the lawmakers were unmindful of the fact that as leaders, ‘before taking a decision that has a far-reaching effect on members we must write down each point of uncertainty, estimate the probability of a positive or a negative outcome in each case, and access the probable impact on the overall result if each decision should end in a negative outcome.
It is also an expert belief that globally, proliferation of NGOs in any given nation is an indication of the weakness of its public sector. India and Haiti as we will later find out in this piece stand as sterling examples.
If the above reasoning is anything to go by, what I feel should be the preoccupation of a responsive government is to find ways these NGOs works can integrate into those of the public sector since the state is weak. And most importantly, how these NGOs can effectively perform their responsibilities in such a way that will impact positively more on the lives of Nigerians.
Increasingly by choice or by accident, government at all strata can no longer single-handedly shoulder the crushing weight of infrastructural and socio-economic development in the country. And NGOs various programmes have become effective tools for promoting peace and fighting infrastructural decay, insecurity, unemployment and economic stagnation. What they need is support and not regulation.
And these roles performed by NGOs are by no means unique to the NGOs operating in Nigeria. As an illustration, while writing on the topic; what is equity-efficiency trade-off when maintaining wells in rural Haiti, Dionissi Aliprantis, a Research Associate at the inter-university Institute for Research and Development (INURED), Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Research Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, argued that when considering the rate of NGOs per capita, it must be noted that estimates of the numbers of NGOs working in Haiti or in any other country often differ by orders of magnitude. Noting that Haiti, the first country in the Western hemisphere to gain independence and to abolish slavery is widely regarded as a Republic of NGOs, competing with India for the highest rate of NGOs per capita in the world.
With this in mind, it becomes very instructive that we as a nation encourage these NGOs to help get answers to the nation’s present predicaments and deploy the resources needed to move into the future.
––Utomi, wrote from Lagos