International grants: Foreign interest and domestic enablers

India the world’s largest democracy in 2014 accused some NGOs of ‘serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments’, this led to the deregistration of over 14,800 foreign funded NGOs.

There are growing scrutiny on NGOs by various governments, requiring them to register and in some cases, ratifying laws governing them. The NGOs, on the other hand, have alleged that those are attempts to silence their voices.

NGOs, especially civil society organisations, operate under an utopian proposition of being advocates of democracy and good governance, using neo-liberal ideologies. They become partisan, operating as unelected parallel government.

With foreign funding dependency, their actions are influenced by the international donors, thus inviting the irks of governments. No sovereign nation will allow non-state-actors with foreign funding to operate in its country independently without regulations.

Nongovernmental organisations in Africa and Nigeria, in particular, receive a chunk of their finances via foreign agencies and governments for the purposes of development and advocacy.

Nigeria’s Ministry of Budget and National Planning said $26.94 billion development assistance funds from international donors were received in Nigeria from 2015-2020 with the breakdown as follows: – $2.34 billion (2015), $1.15 billion (2016), $774.93 million (2017), $22.02 billion (2018), $655.64 million (2019), and $5.66 million (2020).

The bulk of the funds went to NGOs and CSOs, but did Nigerians feel any impact of these homogenous funds or they were used in funding the lavish lifestyle of the NGOs?

Most NGOs’ advocacy for good governance is driven by the dictates of foreign donors not for the betterment of the citizens, this leads to encroachment on state’s sovereignty. The grim imperialistic impression is exemplified by civil society organisations in Nigeria. While participating in public hearing and other events at Nigeria’s parliament complex they hoist a backdrop, banner or poster having inscription of their foreign sponsors inside Nigeria’s hollowed chambers.

There is the peculiar case of Amnesty International (Nigeria), Amnesty has constantly criticised the Nigerian government of being dictatorial, producing false evidence to back up their claims. Amnesty International (Nigeria) has taken sides with separatists like IPOB and IMN, openly undermining the Nigerian state.

Amnesty International condemned a Bill – ‘The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill’ – in Nigeria, whereas a similar law is being passed in the UK, which is the Amnesty International’s country of origin yet they have refused to condemn it.

In 2018, the Nigerian Army, in a statement through the Director Army Public Relations Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman, called for the closure of Amnesty International. He said, ‘Nigerians should be wary of Amnesty International (Nigeria) because its goals are to destabilise Nigeria and to dismember it’.

The statement came as a response to Amnesty International’s accusation that ‘Nigerian authorities are encouraging impunity that is fueling insecurity across the country’. In 2020, a group of protesters stormed the Abuja office of Amnesty International (AI). The protesters held placards with captions of ‘Amnesty International is backing terrorism in Nigeria’.

While most NGOs are opportunists who profit from natural and man-made disasters, conflict, mismanagement and strife, developing countries get more impact from developmental projects from bilateral agreements between government and government than to NGOs.

As the legendary Reuben Abati wrote, “There is nothing wrong in anyone electing to help promote the frontiers of law, human rights and democracy but the lines became strikingly blurred: between NGOs that were truly non-profit and an emergent phenomenon known as NGIs: Non-Governmental Individuals: special purpose, one-man organisations with neither structure nor organisation like Connected Development (CODE) , but a fanciful name, a business card, an indeterminate address and a fancy-dresser who goes by the name of chief executive with a talent for peripatetic conduct in NGO circles and the larger society.

In due course, someone took the trouble to prepare a directory of NGOs in Nigeria. Our finding: Many states in Nigeria have more NGOs than companies and direct investments. Each NGO looks for funds from international agencies and local donors. Most of them are vehicles for gaining access to government departments and agencies.

The result was the emergence of the NGO chief as an entrepreneur. And some of the guys really live it up. Loud fashion. Big cars. Opulent quarters. Like everything Nigerian, the NGO community, once a haven of good, became a vehicle of access to the good life. The legacy of the early heroes has since been overtaken by many who are out there to make a quick buck, or offer special services to the highest bidder, no matter how shady the deal may be.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the Nigerian government has been trying to control the NGO community, has been very suspicious of it, and continues to attack the civil society community. The contempt is mutual. Our objective is to ensure transparency and accountability in the NGO sector to the extent that while freedom to act on behalf of the people was important, such freedom must come with responsibility.

The time has come for soul-searching within the Nigerian civil society community. It is not everyone that carries placards that means well. It is not every loud-mouthed, fist-clenching character that is a revolutionary.

It is sad that the Nigerian revolution is a gathering place for anyone at all who can shout loud or bold enough to show up at the barricades. Not even NGOs like International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) or any American sponsored NGO should be above reproach or the law. But who will guard the guardians? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Salisu writes from Abuja.

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