Going by a recent report, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has established over 320 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) ostensibly to muzzle the civil space in Nigeria and propagate its agenda and programmes, while attacking discerning voices.
The report sponsored by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which was released in a book: “Fake Civil Society: The Rise of Pro-Government NGOs in Nigeria” authored by Matthew Page, stated that over 360 pro-government NGOs presently operate in the country, with 90 per cent of them established under the present administration.
The report noted that Nigeria’s dynamic and expansive civil society was one of the nation’s greatest strengths and crucial to maintaining that democratic space still existed in the country, known for its independence, outspokenness, and unwavering commitment to democracy, transparency, and human rights having long antagonized the kleptocratic, power-hungry but also image-conscious ruling elites.
But all these, the report stated, seemed to have been lost as the ruling class, has continued to establish NGOs to help protect themselves from domestic pressure and external scrutiny.
“Nigeria’s top power-brokers have cultivated a new generation of pro-government non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Like the fake grassroots groups bankrolled by past military juntas, these surrogate organisations masquerade as authentic civil society groups, singing the praises of top officials and attacking their critics.
“A symptom of the country’s more fundamental political ills, Nigerian elites’ growing use of civil society surrogates should set off alarm bells both domestically and internationally. It is both corrupting and corruptive, compounding the country’s downward democratic trajectory. Like many countries in Africa and, for that matter, elsewhere in the world, Nigeria has recently experienced democratic backsliding that threatens its long-term stability and prosperity.
“The rise of pro-government NGOs is both a cause and a consequence of this backsliding and must be addressed as part of any effort to arrest and reverse it.
“Nigeria’s pro-government NGO sector is thriving. Once a niche side hustle for those seeking to curry favour with the regime, running a pro-government NGO, has become an increasingly lucrative means of gaining political and media influence. For some, it could be a springboard to high public office,” it stated.
The author of the report noted that out of 360 pro-government Nigerian NGOs identified by his research, 90 per cent have started operating since Buhari took office in 2015, and there were suggestions that the groups received high-level support and encouragement from government and its acolytes.
He said: “Many are controlled by a small number of individuals, who have personal and ethnic connections to Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
“And in addition to praising government and military leaders, Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs often attack legitimate civil society groups and even incite violence against them. Pro-government NGOs typically champion illiberal causes, defending the Nigerian government from domestic and international criticism and allegations of corruption, underperformance, and human rights abuses,” the report alleged further.
Michael Olugbode in Abuja