Recently, Nigerian civil society organizations under the JoinBodi Cohort convened to present a research report and showcase their effort to deepen transparency, accountability and good governance in Nigeria. The presentation of the research, which was coordinated by Dr. Oscar Ubhenin was done alongside a civil society fair. Both activities provided the space for organizations to showcase their efforts and reflect on their impact, as well as the challenges within the context of their operational environment.
The events attracted diverse commendations for providing rare insights about how civil society groups in Nigeria are collaborating to promote democracy, human rights, and deepen transparency and accountability. As a collective, the JoinBodi Cohort, which is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has had several milestones, which practitioners believe, ought to be documented for the sake of posterity.
The argument was that too often, civil society organizations invest an enormous amount of time and resources trying to make society better and in their altruistic disposition, they could forget to properly document their contributions. It was also reckoned that in the course of these exertions for society’s good and progress, civic groups may have little time to reflect on, and document those contributions for the sake of collective memory.
Another dimension of the challenge, which necessitated the convening is the notion that civic minded organizations in their advocacy for good governance, could inadvertently become rivals competing for resources, instead of coming together and collaborating as allies to achieve common goals and objectives.
The JoinBodi approach was therefore anchored on a shared responsibility and collective efforts to deepen transparency and accountability, while advocating for good governance. A number of these themes around shared interests, cooperation, collaboration and mitigating challenges formed the fulcrum of the research report, which was presented by the JoinBodi Cohort. The research report titled; Civil Society Efforts in Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance in Nigeria traced the emergence of civil society to the 1980s. It went on to describe how their activities, which focused on promoting democracy and development led to the exit of the military from Nigeria’s governance space in 1999.
However, the reality of Nigeria’s shrinking civic space, the risks and threats to the efforts of civil society activists were brought to the fore in the report. The report for instance drew attention to the emergence of a fake civil society as a strategy by disgruntled state actors to undermine the accountability and transparency efforts of committed civic actors who insist that the right thing be done for the good of Nigeria as a country.
In terms of how the civic space has continued to shrink and restrict the work of civic actors, the report mentioned the introduction of restrictive legislative proposals such as the hate speech, the social media and the NGO bills, which sought to constrain and delegitimize the work of civic actors.
Notwithstanding these efforts to constrain the work of civic actors, the research report went on to document a number of the milestones recorded as a result of the efforts of civil society actors, especially those under the JoinBodi Cohort. One of the major findings of the report is that there have been significant behavioral changes amongst government officials as a result of interventions by CSOs.
These interventions in the governance space include public interest litigation, policy advisories and other forms of engagement with the government described as influential in terms of their impact on public policies and programs. Other milestones documented focused on the role played by civil society in the passage of Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act in 2011, which has subsequently enhanced access to information by citizens.
In terms of the electoral process, the research found evidence that civil society efforts under the JoinBodi Cohort contributed to the improvement of the electoral laws of the country, and also the improvement of the functions and processes of key institutions such as the police, the judiciary and institutions like the Bureau for Public Procurement. Another important contribution made by civil society, according to the research report is the role played in advancing technology-driven governance.
As for the challenges civil society organizations encounter in the course of their work, the research notes financial and human resource constraints, time lag with respect to public interest litigation, and the low level of women inclusion in governance. The research also identified challenges in the areas of pushing for accountability in constituency projects and ensuring transparency in local governance across the country.
In the light of these issues and based on the findings of the research, it was recommended that CSOs, especially those in the JoinBodi Cohort should leverage on existing international procedures and policies such as the Open Government Partnership as one of the ways to mitigate the risks, which are prevalent in the Nigerian environment.
Other recommended action points from the research have to do with tracking expenditures in the tertiary education sector, intervention in irregular migration, helping talented Nigerians to develop and export their talents and working to set up online platforms for reporting, data collection, and project review. Another critical issue identified as an area of top priority in the research is the issue of debt transparency.
This it was noted is critical because the current ruling elite in Nigeria does not mind borrowing away the future of the country. Other areas of possible interest, according to the research are environmental conservation, inclusive budgeting and deployment of technology to promote access to information.
In the area of sustainability and possible scale up of the efforts recorded under the JoinBodi Cohort, the research acknowledge that current JoinBodi Cohort activities were being implemented in “pockets of states.”
It was therefore suggested that a possible scale up targeting four states per geo-political zone to reach a total of 24 states would be an ideal approach to deepen the impact of the civic efforts. Added to this for sustainability is the point about engaging more with states and local governments, which in the reckoning of the researchers would bring to the fore how 52% of federal allocation given to the states and the local governments is being expended. Members of the JoinBodi Cohort which coordinated the research and the fair include BudGIT Foundation, CHRICED, Yar’Adua Foundation, CISLAC, WRAPA, HEDA, AGORA Policy, Community Life Project, AFRICMIL, CODE, CITAD, Centre LSD, ARDP, Brookings Institution, and PLAC.