No fewer 324 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been operating in Nigeria since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, a new research report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has alleged.
The report, funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, further claimed that many of the pro-government NGOs “are controlled by a small number of individuals who have personal and ethnic connections to the All Progressives Congress (APC).”
The report, authored by Matthew T. Page, an associate fellow of the Chatham House Africa Programme, chronicled the history of Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs from the era of the late tyrant, General Sani Abacha.
Under military rule, according to the 48-page report, pro-government NGOs were not merely noisy competitors in civil society spaces, but were formidable antagonists capable of affecting real-world politics.
Specifically, the report documented the activities of Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) founded by Daniel Kanu and Association for a Better Nigeria (ABN) by Senator Arthur Nzeribe, both of which played a critical role in propping up late Abacha’ authoritarian regime.
Suspiciously well-resourced and amplified by state-run media, the report observed the entities acted as a counterweight to pro-democracy NGOs like the Civil Liberties Organization, Constitutional Rights Project, and the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), many of whom were sustained by international support
Under the current dispensation, the report noted that 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.
“Out of 360 pro-government NGOs identified by this research, 90 percent have started operating since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015. This correlation suggests that these groups receive high-level support and encouragement.”
The report, in specific terms, claimed that many “are controlled by a small number of individuals who have personal and ethnic connections to Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).”
In addition to praising government and military leaders, the report documented how Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs were engaged “to always attack legitimate civil society groups and even incite violence against them.”
It added that pro-government NGOs typically championed illiberal causes, defending the federal government from domestic and international criticism and allegations of corruption, underperformance, and human rights abuses.
It explained that Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs “are all opaquely funded, likely through off-budget payments or contracts for consulting services.
“Political appointees known as special assistants will mobilise surrogates on behalf of their principal, usually a minister or agency head.
“Top military officers’ aides play a similar role. Pro-government NGOs appear to operate sporadically, usually at the behest of their funders. Almost all of Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs exist in name only.
“Fewer than 7 percent are listed on the country’s corporate registry as is legally required. Many operate for only a short time before disappearing; 80 percent of groups examined for this paper held just one or two press conferences in total,” the report explained.
The report acknowledged that the country’s dynamic and expansive civil society “is one of its greatest strengths and is crucial to maintaining what democratic space still exists in the country.
“Yet its independence, outspokenness, and unwavering commitment to democracy, transparency, and human rights have long antagonized the Kleptocratic, power-hungry, but also image-conscious ruling elites.
“To help protect them from domestic pressure and outside scrutiny, Nigeria’s top power- brokers have cultivated a new generation of pro-government 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 report said.