Scamming NGOs and the need for government intervention, By Hassan Gimba (1)

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NGO is the acronym for Non-Governmental Organisation and as the name suggests, they are non-profit bodies formed to carry out non-governmental functions and thereby fill gaps that governments and even the private sectors could not affect or where their impacts are minimal while the needs are necessary. They are meant to be agents of development, more especially at the grassroots level, while engaging the citizenry with a deliberate agenda to awaken their awareness and desire for positive social changes that would enhance their quality of life while driving them to make their world a better place.

Non-governmental organisations are supposed to be interventionist bodies that are formed to improve the quality of life for people through various means, some of which are one or more out of the provision of necessities such as food, clothing, improvement of educational and healthcare infrastructure and provision of materials, training and many more that would improve the quality of life and enhance employment opportunities.

Aware of these herculean but noble tasks, when the United Nations was formed in 1945, Chapter 10, Article 71 in its Charter recognized them as such provided they remain nonprofit entities and independent of governmental influence, even if they receive certain funding from the government. That was probably inspired by The Anti-Slavery Society, arguably the first NGO in the world.

In Nigeria, the earliest NGO formally recognised was that to do with the work of Mary Selessor against the killing of twins considered evil in Calabar.

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However, there are so many now in Nigeria that it may be impossible for even the government to know some, considering our poor database system. Even though according to AllAfrica, a multi-media content provider, systems technology developer and the source-of-record for African news and information worldwide, there are over 46,000 NGOs in Nigeria, lack of proper monitoring has given some a window to engage in activities detrimental to our well-being as a nation. The nefarious activities associated with some of them have made some states tag some of them with the toga of ‘persona non grata’, booting them out of their states.

Some prominent NGOs in Nigeria, some bearing names of individuals and some reflecting their works include the TY Danjuma Foundation, the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Amnesty International, the North East Regional Initiative, and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

There are many others such as the Solutions for Internally Displaced (SOLID) People Project, Saving One Million Lives Programme, Africa Hope Alive Initiative, Mental Aware Nigeria Initiative, CLEEN Foundation, Federation of International Female Lawyers, Global Peace Foundation, etc.

However, apart from states that halted the activities of some NGOs, the federal government has had occasions to altercate with some of them because they deliberately incite the public or their beneficiaries against constituted authorities. Some of them prefer beneficiaries that will always be at loggerheads with the government; to them, such are friends deserving of more and more patronage.

Apart from all these, most of them are not corrupt free or super accountable as they want the world to believe. For those bearing respected people’s names, is it in collusion with the individuals or are they being blindsided?

When beneficiaries’ grants are in foreign currency, for instance, some of the NGOs “help” the beneficiaries by converting the funds into naira for them. However, in a show of corruption bordering on fraud, they do not do the conversions based on any known parameter: not official rate and not parallel market rates. While what they give is always lower than official or black-market rates, beneficiaries never get to see the excess, which invariably affects their activities.

Yet these are organisations purposely established to fight corruption and mismanagement in governance as well as fight for accountability and transparency among public officers.

The NGOs mostly get their funding from abroad as conduits to beneficiary bodies here. Do their funders abroad know of this misappropriation? Will they condone it if they knew? Is the government aware of such vices that can be deemed as sabotaging the nation’s economy?

The federal government needs to set up an inquiry into how many of these NGOs run their activities, including giving more encouragement to subversive elements and those calling on the depredation of national assets and how they utilize their funding, including how they disburse them to beneficiaries.

While we intend to subsequently present three-year evidence of such malfeasance to aid any action the government intends to pursue, we believe the Nigerian government must come out with a new policy that would guide the activities of all NGOs.

Many of them can be rightly said to be tools of neo-colonialism and outright agents of foreign intelligence services in the way they go about their activities. The amount of information they have at their disposal, using local organisations is far more than the Nigerian state has.

However, others are genuinely concerned with the well-being of Nigerians and are actively impacting positively on the lives of people in both rural and urban areas. They do not short-change beneficiaries because they are aware that they are not a profit-making body and therefore they do not collect funding from A, meant for B, but end up not giving to Caesar what belongs to him because Caesar has no way of asking A what was due to him.

They also do not, under the carpet, encourage and empower elements that see the governments of the day as enemies, fighting them, weakening them in such a way that the future becomes uncertain.

Hence we will look at basically two such NGOs, the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The WSCIJ is a “non-profit, non-governmental organization with social justice programmes aimed at exposing corruption, regulatory failures, and human rights abuses with investigative journalism.” SERAP desires to “advance transparency, accountability and respect for economic and social rights through other means such as media advocacy, public impact and strategic litigation, capacity building, institutional building, and education and awareness.”

To be continued.

Hassan Gimba is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Neptune Prime.

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