By Professor Ukertor Gabriel Moti –
Civil Society organizations (CSOs) are enormously important players in governance and development. They provide development services and humanitarian relief, innovate the service delivery, build local capacity and advocate with and for the poor or voiceless and powerless. Acting alone, however, their impact is limited in scope, scale and sustainability, that is why CSOs need to engage the policy process to be more effect. And where is a better institution to engage but the Legislature- the peoples’ representatives.
The last 20 years of democratic governance in Nigeria have seen significant changes in the contexts affecting the relationship between CSOs and policy makers- it has been a period of globalization, democratization, quest for decentralization, advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) where it has been rare for operations of government to totally opaque including that of the legislature. This has is increasingly a progressive partnership between the Legislature and the CSOs for effective governance and service delivery. More and more CSOs are holding government to account with impressive outcomes even though they are sometimes regarded as irritants in some quarters.
The activities of CSOs have over the years engineered several forms of governance reforms and development in Nigeria. Activities which range from protecting against certain government policies to organization of seminars, conferences advocacy, training and enlightenment programmes to educate the citizens on various governance issues have assisted to bring about accountability in government even though we have a long way to go.
The Civil Society space in Nigeria whose function is to mediate between the citizens and the state comprises institutions such labour unions, community groups, religious organisations, non-profit and media groups. These institutions supplement formal processes such as voting and help citizens shape the culture, politics and economy of Nigeria. They have through capacity building activities strengthened and raised the awareness of citizens to participate in social, economic and political development programmes.
While political positioning, historic antagonism, new institutional relationships, or obstinate personalities can make legislative-civic cooperation challenging, there are benefits to working through the challenges to build a constructive partnership with CSOs and Development partners. Particularly where resources are limited, cooperation (or at least coordination) can heighten the impact of either MPs or civic groups acting alone.
For example: • Expanded Human and other Resources: Cooperation means that legislators and civic actors can utilise the knowledge, experience and contacts. Moreover, twice the amount of time can be dedicated to the issue or activity. • Increased Media Coverage: In many places, particularly where legislative-civic cooperation has been less common, public demonstration of partnership can generate media interest. Further, an MP’s status as a nationally elected figure coupled with the issue expertise, or grassroots credentials, of a NGO can be very appealing to the media. With greater media coverage, MPs and civic actors are both better able to communicate their issues to the public directly and to the executive branch indirectly.
In some cases, it may also build the public image of the legislature by demonstrating its engagement in critical poverty related issues. • Improved Public Trust: MPs and civic actors can have complimentary public images. Because they are elected by the general public to play a role in governing the country, MPs’ support for an issue lends it formal recognition. Whereas, concurrent support of an issue (or policy) by non-partisan civic organizations may indicate to the public that the policy is not a mere outcrop of partisan politics. Individual MPs may also find that their popularity increases.
The NASS and CSOs
Section 47 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, stipulates that there shall be a National Assembly (NASS) for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. This makes the National Assembly the seat of legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make laws as spelt in section 4 (1) and (2) and section 4 (4). This peculiarity gives the legislature the place of primacy out of the three organs of government being that governance begins with law making and is followed up by enforcement and adjudication of disputes.
This puts the legislature in a strategic and foremost position for the design of societal development. It is this nature of the legislative process and quality and of its output that determines the health of the society. It follows that the level of national development is strongly determined by the capacity of the legislature and this cannot be done with partnerships. CSOs are critical partners with the NASS in this endeavour. CSOs are collaborative institutions, and have been proactive in inserting themselves into the legislative process to be more effective in governance and development.
CSOs have deployed five strategic methods to influence public policy and legislation. These are education, persuasion, collaboration, litigation and confrontation (Covey, 1994). At every stage of the legislative process, CSOs can deploy any of these strategies towards ensuring involvement in the legislative process. Effective advocacy requires good knowledge of the legislative process, which include how motions are raised, bills are passed and knowledge of the key decision makers and the power brokers. It also depends on knowledge on when to engage legislators at individual and Committee stages (Dan-Azumi, 2018).
CSO partnership and intervention in governance and the legislative process has been very strategic and brought about concrete outcomes in Nigeria. The enactment of the National Health as far back as 2014 benefited from the research and role of CSOs. The emergence of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), a law that spent the longest period within the NASS with many setbacks had the push and input of CSOs. Same goes for the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Child Rights Act and the Petroleum Industries Act, Electoral Reforms, the Not too young to Run Act and the recent NNDC act.
We can recall the networks and coalitions such Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR), Electoral Reform Network (ERN), Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence against Women (LACVAW) and the Nigeria Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC), and Civil Society Coalition On Sustainable Development (CSCSD), Civil Society Legislative Council of Nigeria (CISLAC) and Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) etc that have partnered with the Legislature for various initiatives in the NASS over the years. These activities do not however exonerate CSOs who have been accused of contradiction and clandestine activities in the civil society discourse that have called to question their true motives, objectives, independence, and agenda of these non-state actors both local and foreign.
CSOs and Governance
The management of public affairs is not an exclusive domain of government and the concept of governance goes beyond the realm of the state or public sector. It also involves the Civil Society which comprises of schools/academe, non-government organizations (NGO), People’s Organization, Voluntary Organizations, and the Private or the Business Sectors. The involvement of these sectors is based on their common interest and similar aspirations committed to the same public concerns. As Louise Frechette, Deputy Secretary General of the UN said, “Governance is not something the state does to society, but the way society itself, and the individuals who compose it, regulate all the different aspects of their collective life. The key actors in the governance system include the state (public sector), the private sector (market place) and the civil society or the Third Sector.
The state is the principal actor of government to facilitate participation and provide an enabling environment to other elements of the society. It is a strong entity that recognizes the significance and autonomy of the other sectors without overwhelming them.
The state as enabler provides for the legal and regulatory framework and political order within which firms and organizations can plan and act. It encourages citizens to act by liberating them from the fear of military reprisals when they criticize policies or serve marginalized groups. It can assure private firms that policies are fair and not subject to caprice or whim or the private interest of political officials. The state as resource provider facilitates by providing resources to assist markets and communities. Such resources include information, technical expertise, research and development programs, physical infrastructure as well as grants-in-aid or incentive schemes
The Civil Society or Third Sector consists of the complex of citizens and groups outside government working in the public arena. It is often called as CSOs- civil society organizations and also sometimes referred to as the Third Sector. This sector plays an important role in the facilitation and interaction among the key players of local governance. It mobilizes the various groups or organizations in the community to participate in planning and decision-making process.
Civil Society and Cooperation: For the purpose of this discussion, civil society is considered to include: formally organized nongovernmental organizations; think tanks; issue advocates; watchdog groups; member based or activist organizations; organized but informally structured citizen groups or networks; and various community development initiatives. All these groups are often loosely referred to as CSOs. The term cooperation also covers a range of possibilities, with varying levels of coordination: joint activities, coordinated timing for separate activities, or independent pursuit of shared goals plus information sharing.
Characteristics of Civil Society
Different from state and market
Equality and constant struggle for development and wellbeing of the people
Upholding good governance standards and practices
Holding institutions and position holders accountable
Development partner is a term that is widely used in the field of international development aid to describe any organisation working in partnership with national and local government bodies. It does not have a precise definition – there are different types of partnership – but it is applied to organisations that provide development assistance in some form. It is a partnership where mutually-beneficial relationship is built on trust, sharing of knowledge, integration, with it partners regarding development. By contributing to improving local development outcomes, subnational governments can serve as critical building blocks for government legitimacy and institutional development.
One of the issues commonly observed is that Donor or Development Partners sometimes push their norms and neglecting context. Development partner support is often framed around technical and normative issues, with insufficient attention to political and institutional realities and national reform priorities. Individual donors sometimes must (or feel they must) support their own institutional policies, even when they are not fully consistent with official policy in the country they are supporting, or when they clash with other donor programmes. In some cases, the reforms being promoted are inconsistent with country context. They may also require more change than the country can absorb, with little attention to a realistic implementation strategy.
Recently the terms “governance” and “good governance” are being increasingly used in development literature. Bad governance is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes of all evil within our societies. Major donors and international financial institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition that reforms that ensure “good governance” are undertaken. Good governance is the process whereby public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law.
The concept of “governance” is not new. It is as old as human civilization. Simply put “governance” means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Governance can be used in several contexts such as corporate governance, international governance, national governance and local governance. Since governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made and the formal and informal structures that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision.
All actors other than government and the military are grouped together as part of the “civil society.” In some countries in addition to the civil society, organized crime syndicates also influence decision-making, particularly in urban areas and at the national level. Similarly formal government structures are one means by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level, informal decision-making structures, such as “kitchen cabinets” or informal advisors may exist.
Good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society. Recently, a new characteristic has been added: Strategic Vison: The long-term, comprehensive picture of an organization’s goals and the methods for achieving those goals. It guides an organisation’s or institution’s strategy and decisions.
How CSOs promote good governance?
The Nigerian government is committed to establishing a democratic culture, effective public institutions and meaningful citizens’ participation in public affairs. Civil Society Engagement with the Legislature for Rights-based Lawmaking enough to demand the delivery of key political, social, and economic rights that directly impact their lives. Nigeria’s commitment is premised on the assumption that legislators react to the demands of their constituents by pushing the other arms of government to follow through on their service delivery obligations to citizens.
For this to be realized, Nigerian citizens must be able to understand how the legislative decisions impact the quality of their lives, and steer the process of change by holding the government accountable. Unless the gap between policy and practice is addressed, the policies developed at the level of the government will have no impact on the development prospects, fundamental freedoms and human rights enjoyed by Nigerian citizens. This is where CSOs become even more relevant. They can contribute through the following ways.
- Assist the process of making right decisions
- Ensuring the best possible implementation of polices
- Constant policy analysis
- Monitoring of governmental working machinery
- Educating public about their rights and duties
- Encouraging citizen participation in governance
- Encouraging the decentralisation of power and governance
- Commitment to supporting a greater role for civil society
- Development of advocacy capacity
- Development of ability to monitor reform
- Meaning participation in implémentation, monitoring and évaluation
Civil Society Organisations and Development Partners and parliamentarians play a critical role in policy making and assisting the legislature in enhancing and safeguarding the governance and development.
- **Ukertor Gabriel Moti is Professor of Public Sector Management and Governance and Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies and Director, Abuja Centre for European Studies (ACES), Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja-Nigeria
- [email protected]; [email protected]. He presented this paper presented as a Lead Panelist on the Panel Discussion: Development Partners, Civil Society Organisations, Media, etc, at a 5-day Induction Programme for Members-Elect of the 10th National Assembly, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on Friday, 19th May, 2023.