NGO Networking For Social Transformation


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Otive Igbuzor, PhD

ActionAid International Nigeria,

Plot 590 Cadastral zone,

Central Business Area,


Tel: +234 9 2348480 & 3

Fax: +234 92348482

















The role, influence, recognition and resources available to Non- Governmental Organisations in Nigeria have been on the increase in recent years. At the same time, the number  and typologies of NGOs have increased tremendously. In this keynote address, we shall focus on those NGOs that are committed to social transformation. In particular, we shall examine how and what the NGOs need to do to network to bring about the required development in Nigeria. But first, we shall examine the concept of civil society and types of  NGOs.



The concept of civil society (including NGOs) has been variously described by scholars as imprecise, ambiguous, controversial, nebulous and one of the key words of this epoch.[i] Some scholars have contended that the rise of civil society is associated with strategies of rolling back the state and has contributed to de-legitimising post-colonial nationalism and re-enforcing neo-liberal theories of the separation of State and society. This is probably why civil society assumed more significance with the end of the cold war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Civil society plays very crucial roles. Many scholars have expounded on the roles of the civil society. According to Keane, civil society has two main functions: precautionary against the State-to balance, reconstruct and democratize it, and advocating, expansion  of liberty and equality in civil society itself.[ii] In a similar vein, it has been pointed out that increased role for civil society is seen as a way of assuring accountability through more efficient service delivery and of putting pressure on political rulers- thus creating “participation” and “empowerment” in terms of giving voice to people’s demand for influence and welfare.[iii] According to Shils, the idea of civil society has three main components:

The first is a part of society comprising a complex of autonomous institutions-economic, religious, intellectual and political- distinguishable from the family, the clan, the locality and the State. The second is a part of society possessing a particular complex of relationships between itself and the State and a distinctive set of institutions which safeguard the separation of State and civil society and maintain effective ties between them. The third is a widespread pattern of refined civil manners.[iv]

In African countries, as a result of combination of a lot of factors, the State is increasingly  incapable of  maintaining law and order and providing for the welfare of citizens. As a result, great expectations are being placed on the civil society to promote participation, empowerment, transparency, accountability and good governance. As noted above, there is no agreement among scholars on the conceptualization of the term civil society. In this paper, we adopt Diamond’s conceptualization  of civil society as “the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, (largely) self-supporting, autonomous from the State”.[v] . Civil society therefore encompasses professional organizations, town development unions,  trade unions, ethnic organizations, student associations e.t.c. In this conceptualization, civil society include NGOs which are non-profit organizations formed by certain persons who have some vision and mission to pursue and elicit the support of others to pursue usually on specific issues such as environment, human rights, women’s rights, democracy, development, debt, children’s rights, rights of the disabled e.t.c. In this copnceptualisation, NGOs are a subset of civil society organizations. This is in tanden with the position of the UN which refers “the accreditation and participation of civil society, including NGOs.”[vi]



There are many ways by which NGO can be classified. First, NGOs can be classified based on their positioning on development issues. Civil society positioning is influenced by a lot of factors including ideological orientation of the founder and/ or leadership, knowledge and training. The positioning of civil society organizations with respect to development issues can be categorized into four groups: abolitionist, transformist, reformist and conformist.[vii] The Abolitionists argue that the structures and systems in place to deliver on development are illegitimate and constrain freedom and capacity of individuals to bring about development. They recommend the abolition of all structures including governmental structures, private companies, e.t.c. and replacing them with completely new structures. Many of these people will not participate in any government committee or commission because they believe that nothing positive will be achieved until the entire structure is abolished. The abolitionists will therefore not participate in any conference called by government. The Transformists are of the view that that there are fundamental problems with the structures and mechanisms in place to bring about development. They argue that the processes that emanate from the structures and mechanisms are oppressive and exclude the poor. They suggest a fundamental restructuring of the structures and mechanisms to deliver development. The transformists will not participate in a conference called by the government if the process of convocation is not participatory, democratic, open and transparent.


The Reformists see nothing fundamentally wrong with the structures and mechanism. They argue that the problem is with leadership and performance. They suggest that good leadership, discipline and proper management can bring about the desired development. The reformists will participate in any conference or committee set up by government no matter how illegitimate it is in the eyes of civil society. The reformists believe in entreism i.e. that they can go into government by whatever means (election or appointment) to bring about the desired changes. The Conformists see nothing wrong with the system. They just want to be part of the system. Their greatest argument is for the involvement of the civil society in governance and development projects. The conformists are always lobbying for positions in government. They are mostly opportunists.


Secondly, NGOs can be classified into three models according to how they were formed and the membership i.e. traditional model, membership model and entrepreneurship model. In the traditional model, one person or a few people who have a particular vision employ other people as staff to actualize this vision.  Because of requirements of funding agency or to have credibility in the eyes of the public, a “Phantom Board” made up of a coterie of friends is appointed.  The board rarely meets and do not formulate policies or exercise any form of control in the running of the NGO.  The membership model is made up of members who have a shared vision and they volunteer their time, energy and resources to pursue the vision.  The officers of such NGOs are usually elected and they operate through democratic principles. Finally, in the entrepreneurial model, some people with vision and entrepreneurial skills employ staff that share in those vision to bring it to reality. Most of the ones in this model have functional boards.


Thirdly NGOs can be classified according to the motivation of the practitioners. There are those who are interested in transforming society and they see NGOs as avenues to accomplish this. There are also those who build their career as NGO workers. They therefore see NGO work as a career or profession just like any other career or profession. In addition, there are those who utilize civil society activism as a means of survival. They have no job and have no option but to hang on to NGO work as a means of survival. They are prepared to leave NGO work as soon as they get a better job. Finally, there are stooges who utilize NGOs to promote the interest of government (GONGOs) or individuals. Finally, there are quasi- government NGOs formed principally by wives of President, vice-President, Governors and Local Government Chairmen.


Fourthly, NGOs can be classified according to their approaches to development work. We can delineate at leas four distinct approaches to development work. First there are NGOs who utilise  the welfare/service delivery approach. This approach seeks to provide short term relief to the poor and excluded or to people in emergency situations. This approach merely provides relief and does not look at the factors, structures and institutions that created the problem in the first instance. This approach provides temporary relief to the poor and excluded but will not lead to poverty eradication because it does not tackle the root causes of poverty. Secondly, there are NGOs who go beyond the provision of relief to build the capacity of communities to deal with situations in which they find themselves. For instance, the NGOs will seek to enable communities to improve their agricultural systems so as to deal with the problem of food shortage. Initially, this approach to development was largely externally driven. Thirdly, there are NGOs who utilise the participatory development approach. This approach to development improves on the development approach by giving room for the poor and excluded to participate in the definition of the problem as well as designing context specific responses to the problem. Finally, there are NGOs who utilise the rights based approach, a participatory development approach that recognizes the rights of the poor and excluded people as well as the duty of government to meet these rights. RBA recognizes that the poor and excluded people are entitled to fundamental human rights solely by reason of being human. These rights are not privileges. They are not depended on grace or benevolence of rulers. These rights are fundamental, inalienable, universal, interdependent and indivisible. 


That the rights are fundamental means that they are basic for human existence.


That the rights are inalienable  means that they are entitlements which can not be denied or taken away form an individual without an injury being done to the dignity of that person.


That the rights are universal  means that they are recognized in every human society across regions of the world.


That the rights are interdependent  means that the loss of one right is a denial of other rights, and the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights in one area support other human rights.


That the rights are indivisible  means that they should be addressed as one body; whether they are civil, political, economic, social, cultural, solidarity or collective and respect for them is all encompassing.


The range of rights recognized by RBA can be categorized into:

·         civil and political rights e.g. right to life, personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of movement etc

·         Social and economic rights e.g. right to education, health, work, housing e.t.c

·         Right to development

These rights have been documented and codified and draw principally from three main sources:

1.  International conventions, agreements and charters

2.  National Constitutions

3. National laws and other statutory enactments

The RBA is premised on the recognition that the rights of individuals impose obligations on the State. It is widely recognized that states have obligations in civil and political rights. But some people argue that there is less obligations in terms of social and economic rights. But we argue that there are three levels of obligations in matters of social and economic rights: obligations to respect, protect and fulfill. The obligation to respect requires states to refrain from interfering with social and economic rights e.g. refrain from forced eviction. The obligation to protect requires states to prevent violations by third parties e.g. ensure that private employers comply with labour standards. The obligation to fulfill requires states to take appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial and other measures towards the full realization of such rights.  It is important to note that apart from the State, other duty bearers are necessary in every society for the enjoyment of rights. These include individuals, families, communities, NGOs, donor agencies, international community and the private sector. The role of NGOs  in RBA is to create awareness, educate in rights and obligations, build capacity of rights holders, organize and mobilize rights holders, advocate for pro-poor policies and provide alternatives. Whenever services are provided by NGOs, it should be to serve as entry points for the NGOs to perform the roles mentioned above more effectively.


It is apt to note that there is a culture that is required to deliver RBA including the need to act as facilitators, enablers or catalyst, empowering others, persistency, analysis and activism. RBA requires challenging of structures and powers of oppressive State officials and institutions as well as traditional systems with risks of possible arrest, intimidation and repression from the state and traditional structures. It therefore requires skills in mobilization, campaigning, advocacy, analysis, communication, research, networking and activism.



Networking has become a key approach to work especially by NGOs that are reformist and transformist or even abolitionists and are utilizing the rights based approach. Networks may be formal or informal, temporary or ongoing but one key characteristic of all networks is that all members have at least one thing in common with other members of the network. Therefore, NGOs networking for social transformation must all agree on the need for transformation of society.



A formal and ongoing network like NANGONET provides a structure that gives the members the opportunity to co-operate, collaborate, share experiences, expertise and resources and pull their power together to bring about change.  The key idea about a network is the notion of team:

T: Together

E: Everyone

A: Achieves

M: More

Many networks have been formed in Nigeria in several states of the federation and at National level. Many of them are inactive and ineffective as a result of poor management, poor leadership and lack of transparency and accountability. Over the years, we can clearly delineate those factors that promote effective networking. They include:

·         Team Identity

·         Following decisions and agreed procedures

·         Systems and structures for decision making and involvement of members

·         Communication

·         Using members skills and resources to maximum advantage

·         Participatory processes

·         Transparency and Accountability


Many networks do not go beyond the day of inauguration. It is important to note that there are two key stages in the life of a network (i.e. Formation & Maintanance/Growth) and these stages require different strategies for formation and sustainability. The formation stage requires that the founding members establish a clear purpose or mission and get the buy in of a critical mass of people and organisations. Involvement of  individuals and organisations that share the mission is critical to solid foundation after which programmes must be put  in place to build the commitment of the members.

The survival and growth of network depend on a lot of factors. In our view, the three critical factors are organisation, leadership and meetings/documentation.

  1. Organisation

    Establish a structure and define clear, specialised roles provided for in the structure


    Compile a skills inventory and institutional resources of all members of the network


    Prepare to fill expertise gaps by recruiting new members into the network


    Establish a communication system


    Create a clear database (Name, address, organisation mission, type and focus of members of the network.

2. Leadership

·         Visionary and committed leadership

·         Dynamic secretariat

·         Set realistic goals and objectives

·         Form committees on specific tasks according to expertise

·         Share responsibilities

·         Promote participatory planning and decision making

·         Foster Trust and collaboration among members

·         Keep members motivated by acknowledging their contribution

3. Meetings/Documentation

·         Meet only when necessary

·         Set specific agenda and circulate ahead of time

·         Keep attendance list and record of meetings

·         Document and publish

It is important to point out that networking is essentially about mobilisation and advocacy. For networking for social transformation to be effective, it has to be rooted in communities and made up of organisations and movements of poor people. The organisation and mobilisation of the people has to be bottom-up (organising from below).


The idea of NGO networking for social transformation is essentially targeted at bringing about development in society. But the concept of development is a very controversial one. We have argued elsewhere that the definitions and interpretations of development are influenced by history, discipline, ideological orientation and training.[viii] However, development is always associated with good change and progress.[ix] A scholar once argued that development requires growth and structural change, some measure of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment.[x] In our view, social transformation will require good change and progress in the following areas:


Pro-Poor Growth


Structural Change


Distributive Equity


Social and cultural Re-orientation


Political Transformation


Human Development


Urban Development




Transformation of Power



This move by the civil society in Nassarawa State in a strategic and important one. The success will however depend on the commitment, leadership and magament that is brought to bear on the process. There is no doubt that if we proceed as we have shown in this address, then Nassarawa State will have taken a giant leap toward sustainable development.








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[i] Beckman, B., Hansson, E. and Sjogren, A. (Eds)

[ii] Keane, J. (1988),

[iii] Sjogren, A. (2001)

[iv] Quoted in J. Ibrahim (2001)

[v] Diamond, L. (1994)

[vi] Quoted in Grant, W. (2002)

[vii] This categorization is an adaptation of categorization by Ramesh Sighn, CEO of ActionAid International at the Induction of New Country Directors in Johanesburg in December, 2004.

[viii] Igbuzor, O. (2005), Perspectives on Democracy and Development. Lagos, Joe-Tolalu & Associates.

[ix] Chambers, R (1997), Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last. London, Intermediate Technology Publications

[x] Kambhampati, U. S. (2004), Development and the Developing World. USA, Blackwell Publishing Inc.



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