A study has revealed that there are presently about 360 pro-government non-governmental organisations in Nigeria who thrive on government funding to champion illiberal causes and stop calls for reforms.
The study was conducted by Matthew Page, a non-resident scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It separated mainstream NGOs — those that seek to advance democratic values and defend human rights — from pro-government NGOs that defend corrupt, insensitive, or abusive acts.
The study said such groups are now over 360 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
It, however, explained that many unregistered NGOs also do important work, deriving legitimacy from their local impact or niche focus.
The study said, “In the run-up to Abacha’s 1998 self-succession bid, more than 150 other such groups sprang up all across Nigeria, including the National Mass Movement of Nigeria, 21st Generation, Vision ’98, the National Movement for Peace and Stability, and the Northern Elders Forum.
“These pro-Abacha groups were also said to have attacked potential dissenters and played a prominent role in blunting grassroots opposition to authoritarian rule.
“They acted as a counterweight to pro-democracy NGOs like the Civil Liberties Organisation, Constitutional Rights Project, and the Transition Monitoring Group, many of whom were sustained by international support.
“However, after the Abacha regime, some of Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs lost both their reason for existing and their source of financing. Most groups evaporated overnight; others tried to reinvent themselves as the country’s political power networks rapidly realigned.”
In Nigeria’s early stages of democracy, it said, the activities of pro-government NGOs reached a low ebb particularly under presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua.
However, since the Buhari regime, pro-government NGO activity is said to have skyrocketed with more than 360 pro-government NGOs.
The report stated that of the number given, about 90 per cent began operating in and around the capital, Abuja, since 2015.
“This surge is unlikely to be coincidental, given that pro-government NGOs rely on senior officials—albeit often indirectly—for guidance and funding.
“It may also be the result of a deliberate but unspoken strategy on the part of a handful of the ruling party and military elites to resuscitate a familiar political tool, used during previous periods of democratic retrenchment to dilute civil society and international criticism.”
The study alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission has always been ready to accredit little-known groups as official domestic election observers without a proper research.
Page noted that these NGOs tend to target a similar set of perceived adversaries such as “Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for their work on human rights abuses in Nigeria; Transparency International, especially its annual Corruption Perception Index, in which Nigeria consistently ranks poorly; international media organizations such as CNN, the BBC, and Reuters; and anti-government groups such as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and the Indigenous People of Biafra”.
The study said Ali Abacha, the younger brother of former dictator Sani Abacha, has been identified as one of Nigeria’s most seasoned pro-government NGO leaders.
He is said to be linked to at least five such groups, one of which is the Northern Patriotic Front (NPF), which still operates 23 years after it first made headlines by advocating in favour of Sani Abacha’s self-succession bid.
Page suggested that media houses verify the status of NGOs before covering such events.