Olajide Olutuyi, Co-Founder/ CEO, Top-Olax Energy Limited

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Subjects of Interest

  • Frontier and Emerging Markets
  • Private Sector Development
  • Sustainable Development

Why government should support community-based organisations 11 Aug 2020

Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) are not-for-profit groups that work to improve the lives of people at the local level. They are typically locally based, locally staffed and their operations are very specific to the localities in which they operate. CBOs are mostly focused on providing solutions to one or more community needs.
The local presence of these organisations places them in a position to better understand the people who live in those communities and their needs. In more developed societies, CBOs are used to carry out government programmes. The aim is to ensure that the local communities for which the programmes are targeted can actually benefit from them. As a matter of fact, if you take a budget of an advanced nation, you would see how funds are channelled to different CBOs for various socio-economic programmes.

However, the same cannot be said of the Nigerian government both at the federal and state levels. You cannot see any funds earmarked for or channelled through CBOs in any budget. Hence, the country has never benefited from utilising the bottom-up approach of using CBOs to influence socio-economic development. For this reason, the country missed a great opportunity of using CBOs during the Covid-19 pandemic to facilitate and enhance government responses across the country.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the lockdown that ensued, the Nigerian government introduced some response measures, including distribution of food to vulnerable households in some parts of the country. Cash transfers were also sent to some people. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been administering part of its interventions through NIRSAL Microfinance Bank. Clearly, neither the federal government nor state government adequately utilised CBOs.

Even the private sector and high-net-worth individuals are culprits in this regard. We witnessed how the wealthy contributed funds to the purse of the federal government to help fight Covid-19. Ideally, these funds should have been channelled to CBOs that are closer to the people.

Government policies are carried out in ad hoc and arbitrary manners without recourse to coherent strategies for optimal output. How do we expect to see results then? Sometimes, I draw a blank as to what the adjective criteria are for those who are deemed qualified to be in leadership positions.
For instance, the government had no business distributing food during the lockdown. An effective and efficient system would have engaged and mobilised CBOs to carry out the distribution. There are CBOs who have been doing such activities pre-Covid-19, for example, the Lagos Food Bank Initiative (LFBI), a non-profit that has been committed to fighting hunger and solving malnutrition since 2015. LFBI has served up to 86 rural and underserved communities in Lagos.
More recently, we saw the brouhaha between the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the National Assembly over a well-thought-out recruitment programme by the federal government. This is a programme that would have been properly carried out by well-organized CBOs across all the states where the government aims to recruit 774,000 workers.
As a people, Nigerian cultures are already community inclined. Hence, if our cultures are well harnessed, we can carry out an effective bottom-up CBO approach to our development.
As part of efforts to assist CBOs in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced a $350 million Emergency Community Support Fund in April to help community groups and charities that support the homeless and other people who have been more vulnerable to the pandemic. In the United States, the Seattle Foundation, set up the Emergency Financial Assistance to grant funds to CBOs that are supporting people working on the frontlines as well as families in vulnerable communities.
Instead of contributing to the growth of CBOs in the country, the Nigerian government, across different administrations, has often created agencies and parastatals to do the work CBOs should do. Of course, this model has proven to be inefficient. Some of the agencies created over the years include Operation Feed the Nation (1976), Directorate of Foods, Rural Roads and Infrastructures (1982), Community Banks (1990) and Better Life for Rural Women (1987).
Although these agencies were setup with good intentions, they all faded away because the model is not sustainable. In an article, titled “Community Development: A Quiet Evolution from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe,” which was published in the Journal of Community Development Society, and written by Ben Madondo, the author asserts that CBOs are local initiatives and any interference from the government may divert their focus, misguide or adversely influence them.
Several studies have recognised CBOs as vehicles by which people-oriented development can be carried out. CBOs do not contribute to community development only by being the middleman for government resources and policy actions; they are also public voices of communities. The Nigerian government’s top-down approach continues to delay development and weaken the citizens’ confidence in the government.
There are many government programmes I have seen that are too complicated to apply for. The difficulty in accessing these programmes is partly what makes them prone to corruption, with those who are most in need of the programmes becoming victims of corruption. Also, a lot government programmes never get to the grassroots. If governments were to collaborate with and empower CBOs, the organisations could help citizens complete necessary application processes to enable them take part in the programmes.
Regrettably, many Nigerian citizens lack the social consciousness to understand the effectiveness of CBOs in order for them to begin to actively advocate for collaboration with the government in achieving more socio-economic benefits for the nation. But this lack of awareness needs to change. There are various needs of communities that CBOs can address. For instance, Spaces for Change (S4C), a CBO pioneered and run by Victoria Ohaeri, has carried out community-based research on housing, urban transformation, energy and environmental justice in rural areas in Lagos over the years.
Organisations like S4C and LFBI need government's support. It's a win-win for both the local communities and the government that helps to expand the activities of such organisations.
Thankfully, a CBO like Wecylers can help encourage other CBOs to continue their good work and to foster the institution of new ones. An organisation that promotes environmental sustainability and community health by providing recycling services in densely populated neighbourhoods, Wecylers said it has established a relationship with the Lagos State government through the Lagos Waste Management Agency (LAWMA).
This partnership has supported Wecylers' expansion into more Local Government Areas in the state. Through the government's support, the organisation has secured land for its recycling hubs and has also started community awareness programmes.
In a new community development paradigm, the Nigerian government needs to make it a national policy to start supporting the country's CBOs. We need the minds of citizens to be awakened to their ability to mobilise for change and address societal ills through a community-driven approach.
With the 2023 general elections already on people’s minds, we should be seeing CBOs who will provide solutions to the issue of voter apathy and ending the scourge of vote-buying in Nigeria. We need CBOs that will educate rural communities on why their votes are sacred.
A strong regulatory framework also needs to be put in place to set operational guidelines for CBOs to discourage misappropriation of funds and other illicit practices.