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Constitutional role for civil society-media organisations(3)

THIRDLY, the challenge of Nigeria is not so much the lack of good laws, policies, rules and regulations. The implementation of these ordinances is the problem. The CCS will support other government arms by mobilising its CSOs, their members and volunteers to engage the MDAs.

The proposed recognition of CCS is compelling for other reasons. CSOs have played a significant role in the current review process. It is only logical that they should also play a role in operating the Constitution. The recognition offers the locus standi to protect and develop CSOs and provide an ecosystem to advance the contribution of a strong voluntary, non-profit Third Sector of CSOs. The CCS will integrate the Nigerian Diaspora of 17 million; create a global human infrastructure platform and a new social world of Nigerians. Empowered civil society will also strengthen our nation’s political society, link party members to institutions of the state and lead to strong people-owned parties to mobilise the masses, transform politics and make our political parties developmental.

The timing is right for a constitutional CCS. As the Constitution is now under review, we need to take advantage of the process and change things to avoid a worse scenario from rearing up its head in future.  We may not have another one for 10 years to straighten things up.

Besides, prevailing conditions favour the CCS. We have the social media, geographic and global positioning systems and the Federal Government’s “Getting Government Online” initiative.

Performance contracting has been introduced. The Freedom of Information Act is operational.

Recently, many noted people in our nation called for civil society participation. Mr President urged labour unions to conduct peer reviews on corruption among its members. The Deputy Senate President suggested CSOs’ constitutional representation on state police service commissions. The Minister of State for Health charged CSOs to monitor supplies to health facilities and ensure that the approved items were actually supplied. His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja urged state governments to return to their original owners all missionary schools taken over in the 1970s. CSO leaders demanded the publication of state and local government revenues, budgets and finances as is done at the federal level. Senior citizens clamoured for National Conference to include people from various relevant walks of life in order to discuss matters that affect them.

Also, a few ongoing CSO initiatives need mention. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission provides the media specialised training on investigation of corruption cases and follow-up to conviction. Many states now mobilise state- and community-based CSOs to address security concerns. A coalition of public procurement CSOs secured court order compelling government to disclose details of a power sector contract.

Conclusively, we can say that people are saying that CSOs should be actively involved in the ways they are being governed. Therefore, the constitution should clearly state the roles that CSO should play because it is the document that legally stipulates how the people of Nigeria wish to be governed – not how powerful interests prefer to govern them.

Fortunately, Nigeria’s CSOs have a distinguished record of performance. It was CSOs that successfully led the resistance against colonial rule and the struggle for independence. They provided mass education and health services that raised most of today’s outstanding leaders in various spheres of our lives. Since 2004, CSOs have constructively engaged in the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, to improve governance through transparency and accountability. NEITI has uncovered the sum of unpaid accruals to the tune of $11.6 billion due from oil and gas companies of which $2 billion (N300 billion) has so far been recovered. Nigeria’s implementation of the global EITI principles is reported to rank best amongst the implementing countries around the world. The more recent Federal Government Agriculture Transformation Action Plan also works “within a framework of partnerships” that involves CSOs. These and many other examples, provide ready pilots to scale up workable CCS engagements with the public service in collaboration with the other three arms of government.

How should the CCS be represented in the Constitution? We propose that the Constitution Review Committees should insert a new chapter to be titled: “The Council of Civil Society”, or some other name to that effect. The Council should be independent of government with an independent secretariat run by its CSOs. Government funding support will be a first charge on the consolidated revenue fund. The CCS should function at the three tiers of government. Members of the Council would serve on part-time basis, for a given term. The tenure could be renewed for further terms as may be agreed upon. Representatives should be technocrats. The Council will seek to get things done, as may be stipulated by inputs from their constituencies and the other arms of government. Measures shall be put in place to protect the CCS, its organs and operations from conflicts of personal, ethnic and other divisive interests and corruption.

The CCS should be a knowledge-based peoples’ body of experts and reputed professionals, a kind of constitutional “watch, guide and work dog” and partner. The Councils’ constituency will comprise of independent non-profit media organisations, the Nigeria Diaspora, the academia and professional bodies, women associations, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, trade unions, foundations and non-government organisations, religion-based service organizations, youth, socio-cultural groups, state-, local- and community-based organisations, etc., drawn from all over the federation, zone, state and local government area (LGA)

Institutions of public service delivery, consumer protection and development will be the primary focus of the CCS. CCS members and CSO officials will be appointed to the boards and councils of these institutions and they should also serve on the tenders, monitoring and evaluation committees of MDAs.

The Local Council of Civil Society (LCCS) in each LGA should be comprised of members of the local civil organizations (LCOs) drawn from members of the local media, the teachers and medical services unions, women and youth groups, faith-based organisations, town development associations, neighbourhood watch, transport unions, market associations etc.

The arrangement will provide for selected members of the LCCS and the larger LCOs to attend meetings of the local government councils and LGA technical committees (e.g. revenues, budgets and finance, education, health, water and sanitation, agriculture, women, youth, etc). LCCS representatives would have no voting rights. Their participation would serve to share information, enrich council and committee deliberations and facilitate follow up of issues of interest to the LCCSs, LCOs and citizens in general. The local framework of checks and balances would also serve to encourage transparency and accountability in revenue and expenditure matters, and responsiveness in service delivery and local development.

The Federal Council of Civil Society (FCCS) will be composed of technical experts and outstanding professionals from the national independent media organisations, the Nigeria Diaspora, the “great federations” of CSOs and others with capacity to impact national issues and policy. The FCCS is therefore well positioned to monitor federal government projects, among other responsibilities. Take the East – West road for example. The FCCS should mobilize development associations in all communities that straddle the surveyed route of the proposed express way. Through the respective State Council of Civil Society (SCCS) and LCCS, the FCCS should source the contact details of the respective leaders of these development associations. With these details, FCCS would obtain independent situation reports for any stretch of the project route on a 24/7 basis, if required. Where necessary the FCCS would contact the relevant SCCS or LCCS to send competent members for assessment and feedback. FCCS would forward these reports to relevant MDAs, the National Assembly and the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Civil Society for necessary action.

In similar vein, the FCCS through a network of SCCSs, LCCSs, CSOs, their members and volunteers, can play an important role in the delivery of constituency projects of federal legislators spread all over the country and forward reports to the National Assembly and the Office of Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs in the Presidency. The opportunity for the civil society to monitor and report on all federal projects nationwide will make all political appointees and other public servants to sit up. There will be no hiding place anymore for anybody.

Mr. NATHANIEL ABARA, an economic expert, wrote from Lagos.

 


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