Mr President, Nigerian non-profits want an Iftartoo

Buhari at the second term swearing in event

Over the last few weeks, we have heard fresh lines from President Muhammadu Buhari on how he will ensure that he engages more with different sections of the country and the economy during his second term in office. He has also gone on to promise a better delivery of government programmes and policies while warning that he won’t “go slow” anymore. This confirms that the president is listening to the yearnings of the Nigerian public and is willing to address their concerns.

I have admired how President Buhari has used the fasting period to meet with different sections and sectors of the economy at an Iftar. From political leaders, religious, traditional through to the judiciary, National Assembly and the private sector and I was wondering when the president will meet with the nonprofit sector.  We long for the same things as everyone else, and yet we haven’t been treated as if our sector and experiences matter.

The nonprofit sector remains proud of its activities around the 2019 elections and how it has continued to protect the nation’s democracy and in ensuring that we also support government in delivering development to the doorsteps of the common man. We heard calls by candidates and their campaigns calling for our sector to ensure that their rights and mandates were protected. As a sector, we rose to the challenge, monitoring the elections and providing real time analyses and validation for the elections.  We provided support to citizens where government services were lacking through paid and unpaid work (volunteerism) carried out by millions of Nigerians willing to make Nigeria great again.

Yet, it seems no one wants to talk to our sector. Each passing day, we see dangers of government bypassing the nonprofit sector thereby diminishing the value of the sector’s meaningful participation to formulating better public policy. And it is a bad strategy at a time when all critical stakeholders must come together to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.

As an incurable optimist, I am sure Mr. President will do better in his engagement with the nonprofit sector by putting in place a “whole government approach” to civil society engagement. What if the President brings back the “Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Civil Society” as we had it during the Obasanjo administration, or he decides to follow the United Kingdom model by having a Minister for Civil Society?

The work of this cabinet office, Mr. President must be informed, is simple, well not quite though, but the occupant of the office will work to coordinate citizens and citizen-based organisations’ input into his policies and programmes including helping to mobilise resources, monitor progress and results including implementing a robust civil society engagement strategy and convene a cross-government group to work with civil society. No one sector has the solutions to the problem we have in our country. It is time we had a truly multi-stakeholder approach to solving issues around poverty, health, education, insecurity, unemployment and many more facing our country.

Either ways, I am sure the president understands the immediate potential of its new messaging around inclusive engagement which must leave no one or sector behind. The president’s integrity has served him well and we are counting on his words. At least for now.

Oyebisi B. Oluseyi,

Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs,

Lagos. [email protected]

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