Written by Oyindamola Aramide, Communications Officer, NNNGO.
Thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Nigeria Network of NGOs
Regulation is the process by which Civil Society Organizations function under a set of established laws and policies by governments and are held accountable to their communities. It could be in the form of self-regulation, control by state or national governmental agencies or the use of regional norms and standards.
Over the years and since the unprecedented boom of the civil society in Nigeria, there have been calls for CSO accountability and transparency in carrying out their activities especially with expansion and continued alliances with domestic and foreign donors for funding. It is believed amongst government quarters that some NGOs use their platforms to launder funds received from donors and so the government in particular is seeking to regulate their activities. Some NGOs have been set up with the main purpose of taking advantage of foreign funds meant for development work.
However, it could be said that this calls which were originally made with good intention have been misrepresented by government through seeking to formulate laws that would invariably curtail the activities of CSOs and justify restrictive regulation.
In response to these developments, it would not be presumptuous for CSOs to begin to work together as a sector to develop self-regulatory initiatives. As key actors in the governance of social and economic affairs, there is the need to make known their good intentions, sound values and the ability to be accountable for their actions. As the Nigerian civil society space grows, there is the need for a cooperative effort within the society to address issues from how CSOs are governed to what information they should be making public and how they should evaluate their activities.
Self-regulation is the process through which Civil society Organizations institute their own regulatory mechanisms. In some cases, self-regulation can involve a third party such as a fellow civil society organization, preferably with the same thematic focus or a watchdog undertaking external assessments of organizations while in some others, CSO self-regulation can involve the government. In these cases power is partially delegated to an umbrella organization or other association representing CSOs to regulate behavior or set standards for the sector.
Civil society organizations would find it easier to voice their complaints whenever the need arises without fear of being crushed by the weight of the law as they are confident of their own personal involvement in their affairs. All forms of CSO self-regulation have in common the fact that they are not the subject of legal requirement; at least some aspects of each CSO self-regulatory initiative involve the voluntary participation of the sector in developing and administering common norms and standards of behavior.
An advantage of self-regulation that cannot be over-emphasized is the strengthening of internal structures of individual CSOs who have them in place. Adopting a strong and systematically developed self-regulatory mechanism would no doubt allow for smooth and transparent operation within the organization. There would be less need for validation of an external or governmental body in situations where nonprofits lobby for funding.
Self-regulation can help build public trust in the sector. Making public commitments to clear principles, norms and standards provides a standard to which CSOs can be held accountable for their actions and activities. Furthermore, self-regulation can also help limit reputational damage to the sector caused by the wayward and unaccountable behavior of a minority of organizations. It also empowers participating organizations, or the sector as a whole, to signal trustworthiness and professionalism to donors and the general public. In cases where participation in the initiative is limited, self-regulation can assist participating organizations to stand out to potential donors in an increasingly competitive field. Another benefit of self-regulations is to help protect the sector from fraudulent organizations.
The ongoing debate at the National assembly on the passage of NGO regulatory bills which seeks to regulate activities of CSOs is a call to the civil society organization to fasten its belt in legitimatizing the sector by presenting a transparent and more accountable front through creating an enviable self-regulatory structure. The need for an inquiry into the regulation of CSOs in Nigeria cannot be underestimated as the space for CSOs to operate is gradually decreasing due to interference in their activities by national governments.