…As DSS urges cautious criticism
By Emmanuel Elebeke
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on Tuesday blamed the friction between them and government to the hang-over of military dictatorship.
The Programme Director of YIAGA Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, made the position known at the public presentation of report on ‘‘The Impact of Civil Society Organisations 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 British Council.
Mbamalu, said rather than government and its agencies, especially the security agencies to see CSOs as threats to the state, they should see them as stakeholders in nation building and democratic process.
She said that the usual demand for accountability by the CSOs and their questioning of certain actions of government when things go wrong should be viewed as a mere contribution to national development and not as threat.
‘‘In Nigeria, government agencies propagate falsehood against CSOs but we need to be careful with the way we engage with CSOs. CSOs should not be seen as abstract thing but association of people made up of citizens of Nigeria.
‘‘They are not alien, whatever, they do are informed by the need of the citizens from their environment. Our partners from security make certain allegations against the CSOs because they do not want people to question them or the state but agree with whatever they do.
‘‘Under the military rule, it does not make sense for citizens to question the authorities but with the advent of democracy, sovereignty has gone back to the people. That is the friction between the CSOs and state in Nigeria because when people fight back, it is termed as disloyalty.
‘‘Our military regime made the military to see citizens questioning constituted authority as treason or insubordination, as it is seen in military and dictatorship era
It is necessary to unbottle the allegation that CSOs support terrorism or working to promote conflict and disunity.
‘‘The concept of disloyalty should not be interpreted from the prism of military dictatorship because in an institution, where questioning the authority is seen as disloyalty it is going to be taken as norm but in democracy, patriotism is loyalty to the nation and not to government. The fundamental point of patriotism is to Nigeria.
When we fight for democracy, we are not fighting for the soul of an individual but Nigeria. Now in democracy, the conversation should be for Nigerian state and not to an individual or the state since government comes and go.
The role of the CSO is to fight for a better Nigeria and when Nigeria is good it is good for everybody. Our goal is not to destroy but to build.’’
Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Spokes Person , Frank Mba ,said that the meeting was important because it enabled government to continue to asses CSOs properly.
He said the meeting would also help in project the strengths of CSOs and the areas where they have challenges and to project into the future.
The Police Spokesman who acknowledged the role of CSOS, particularly in key areas of legislations, capacity building among others called for more synergy among the CSOs and the security agencies.
`For instance, the recent legislation on the treatment of gunshot victims have 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.’’
A CSO member and the researcher, Mr Jaye Gaskia, while presenting the findings of the report, said that ‘‘CSOs often find themselves pitted against government and the market while performing their critical role as agents of change.’’
According to Gaskia, the reason is that government holds and can pull the levers to make CSO work difficult.
He lamented that government had through hostile regulatory frameworks, anti-CSOs mobilisation, and disinformation campaigns fought the CSOs and called for caution.
He added that genuine CSOs were either primarily involved in advocacy or service delivery with some combining both.
“The precursors of today’s CSOs made important contributions to the anti-colonial struggle for the independence of Nigeria, through raising awareness, organising, and mobilising citizens to demand the right to govern themselves from the colonial authorities.
“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.’’
In his address, 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 connote.
Aigbe said that one of the findings of the report was that CSOs have been able to contribute in nation building and policy formulation as well as removing people from unemployment level due to the number of people they employed.
“Usually the number of people CSOs employ ,if we return that number to the unemployment sector,it is going to be huge and the rate would climb higher than what the unemployment rate is presently.
“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
He said that the work of CSOs had led to reforms and amendment of laws adding that the police Act was the product of CSOs including agitation and advocacy for reform of the defense and anti-corruption fight .
Aigbe noted that CSOS were not anti-government nor adversary to the government but play complimentary role and support government that was why it was called non-governmental.
Meanwhile, the Department of State Services has urged CSOs to champion human rights constructively but should not be seen as alternate government or run their activities as opposition political parties.
The Spokesperson of the secret police, Dr. Peter Afunaya, who represented the Director General, advised that while teaching citizens about freedom of speech, the CSOs should also tell them that their right does not include slander and libel.