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Lobbying, NGOs and the Nigerian society

By Nkemdilichukwu Nwadike
23 March 2017   |   3:44 am
Globally, public pressure to put lobbying regulation on the political agenda has been on the increase.

PHOTO: Google.com/search

Globally, public pressure to put lobbying regulation on the political agenda has been on the increase.

On January 28, 2017, newly sworn in President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, signed an executive order calling for a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials. It was among two other executive actions he carried out in the Oval Office, on the eighth day of his 100 day plan after inauguration. For a president who vowed to get down to work immediately after assuming office, the priority accorded this action underlines the grave concerns shown about lobbying in the country.

Lobbying is a global practice and a very controversial one at that, which is often viewed in a bad light by the general public. Apart from being shrouded in secrecy, lobbying often tends to give unfair advantages to vested interests.

In most countries of the world, lobbying is commonplace and is avidly employed by associations and organised groups, the private sector, corporations, advocacy groups and government officials. Its complex and sensitive nature often makes it difficult to regulate.

While the United States has made steady progress in sanitising the practice with the determination to wield the big stick on public sector officials indulging in illegal lobbying, back home in Nigeria, efforts at curbing illegalities in lobbying have seen progress made at a snail pace, with legislative process on it dragging for over one year since its first reading in the Senate in December 2015. At the second reading of the Bill on October 12, 2016, the sponsor, Senator Dino Melaye, while leading the debate on the general principles of the Bill said that when signed into law the Bill would make provision for registration and regulation of professional lobbyists in the Legislature, as well as any intending lobbyist, under the Company and Allied Matters Act. They will also be required to register with the Ministry of Justice to practise as a lobbyist in the Senate or House of Representatives or both Houses.

Ordinarily, lobbying is supposed to be a more civilised activity that helps to project interests that would otherwise not come to the fore as a result of priorities of the government of the day.

According to VOX, a research-based policy analysis and commentary portal, lobbying, as a means of influencing public policy, “is not only much more prevalent in developing countries than previously thought, but also more effective than corruption.” In fact, some analysts believe that there is a thin line between lobbying and corruption.

In Nigeria, lobbying is fast becoming a potent tool for advocacy and has been used by activists especially when a particular issue of interest is undergoing a legislative process. The grand objective of such engagements is to sway legislation in their favour.

Questions are often raised about the credibility of lobby groups in the country, especially the ones that operate as NGOs and fronts to push certain interests often with foreign origins. Unfortunately, not much has been done to beam the searchlight on the activities of lobby groups in the country. The untold story, however, is that the operations of lobby groups are more often than not secret. They do not disclose their source of income and why they receive funding. These funds are not often used for the purpose they are meant for neither are they accounted for. These civil society groups should also be called into question on their sources of income and how such funds are channeled. Also, the groups are willing tools in the hands of their foreign collaborators to coerce government agencies into bending to their dictates, which at times promote selfish interests and place such interests above national interest. This is a clear departure from what obtained during the nation’s long period of military rule when international donors’ supported NGOs who were perceived as a vital institutional mechanism in the quest for the reinstatement of democratic rule and the process for development in Nigeria.

There are many international donor agencies, mainly in the U.S. and Canada that provide financial and technical support to NGOs in Nigeria. However, very little or nothing has been done to scrutinise the activities of the NGOs and the motives of their international donors. Apart from allegations of lining their pockets with such funds, even more worrisome is the fact that they serve as tools for undermining Nigeria’s corporate interests. In recent years, where diplomatic approach has failed, some foreign countries attempt to use donor agencies in their countries to force down our throats practices that are alien to African culture and social wellbeing with the overt collaboration of local NGOs who are often led by their stomachs. While one may argue that during the country’s protracted period of military rule the practice was well intended then as it saw international donor agencies systematically promoting NGOs as a means of bypassing dealing directly with non-democratic military regimes, the same cannot be said of the present, even with democracy now fairly established in the nation.

Therefore, utmost care must be taken in order to prevent public policy from being influenced negatively by lobby groups who hide under the façade of social activism to seek narrow interests and push agendas that are inimical to the social and economic wellbeing of Nigerians. Regulation on lobbying in the country is no doubt, long overdue. Hence, the wait for its legislation should not go on forever.

Nwadike sent this piece from Lagos.

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