Nigeria’s top power brokers are breeding a new generation of pro-government NGOs masquerading as authentic civil society groups, a research paper published this week has found.
The paper said that almost all of the pro-government NGOs exist in name only as less than 7 per cent are listed on the country’s corporate registry as is legally required.
Many of the groups “operate for only a short time” before they fizzle out.
About 80 per cent of the groups examined by the paper held just one or two press conferences in total.
The report’s author, an associate fellow at Chatham House, Matthew Page, said the findings in the paper – titled ‘Fake Civil Society: The Rise of Pro-Government NGOs in Nigeria’ – suggest that Nigeria’s democracy may be on the decline.
The report found that of the 360 pro-government Nigerian NGOs researched, 90 per cent started operating since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015.
This high correlation suggests, the author noted, that many of the groups receive “high-level support and encouragement” and they 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, Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs, the report noted, “often attack legitimate (NGOs), incite violence against them, champion illiberal causes,” and downplay the Nigerian government’s instances of corruption, underperformance and rights violations.
The fingered pseudo-NGOs are all opaquely funded, likely through off-budget payments or contracts for consulting services, the report read.
“Many pro-government NGOs thrive on the coverage they receive from a few little-known media platforms, some of which are run by their leaders or their allies,” the paper said. “Mimicking legitimate civil society groups, pro-government NGOs often cite the work of supposed think tanks that validate their pro-government or illiberal views.”
The paper said the NGOs are run from the stands by Nigeria’s top power brokers to help protect themselves from domestic pressure and outside scrutiny, while also currying favour from the ruling elites.
“Like the fake grassroots groups bankrolled by past military juntas, these surrogate organizations masquerade as authentic civil society groups, singing the praises of top officials and attacking their critics,” a summary of the report read.
“Nigerian elites’ growing use of civil society surrogates should set off alarm bells both domestically and internationally,” Mr Page, who is also a non-resident scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote.
“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.
“This emboldens political and military leaders who behave counterproductively, undermining domestic and international efforts to encourage the Buhari administration to govern more effectively and humanely.”
The paper urged the Nigerian government not to pass new laws but enforce existing ones to weed out the unregistered and unscrupulous groups.
It tasked Nigeria’s tax and anti-corruption agencies to investigate the groups.
“Nigeria’s mainstream media outlets should conduct more due diligence when covering previously unknown civil society groups and refuse inducements to attend their events or place stories about them.
“Donors, diplomats, and development professionals, as well as legitimate domestic and international NGOs, should do more to call out pro-government groups’ toxic behaviors and press their high-level backers to stop sponsoring them. International diplomats should also levy visa bans on pro-government NGO leaders who issue violent threats or spew hate speech,” the report recommended.
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