This week, the pace of activity within Nigeria’s civil society organizations will be heightened as the sector welcomes John Palfrey, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Palfrey and other members of the foundation’s team will be in Nigeria to meet with civic organisations that are implementing a varied portfolio of projects. The Chicago based foundation, supports creative people, effective institutions and influential networks in building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. Nigeria, with its vibrant civil society organisations, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the efforts of the MacArthur Foundation. The Nigeria office, led by the Dr Kole Shettima, and other members of the Africa office in Abuja have demonstrated the foundation’s belief in Nigeria’s manifest destiny by the quantum of projects it has supported to advance democratic and accountable governance.
Nigeria has benefited significantly from the MacArthur Foundation’s work in a number of areas, including its aggressive efforts to combat corruption and institutionalise accountability. In Nigeria, anti-corruption efforts received a significant boost from the MacArthur Foundation’s “big bets,” which supported civil society efforts to reducing corruption through citizen-led initiatives that promote openness, accountability and engagement. Hundreds of CSOs received funds and training to execute anti-corruption programs through the foundation’s grants and technical assistance. According to the foundation’s website, it has awarded funds worth over $124.7 million to 114 Nigerian groups since 2015 to support grassroots initiatives to eliminate corruption and establish responsible governance.
These efforts spotlighted the effects of corruption on the delivery of basic services, just as everyday citizens in communities were inspired to take action against corruption, especially in relation to the delivery of basic social services across Nigeria. Similarly, the MacArthur Foundation’s On Nigeria 2.0 program has provided extensive support for organizations to leverage on the learning and sustainability elements of the On Nigeria 1.0 program. Under this robust anti-corruption effort, grassroots organisations such as the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education, Connected Development and Community Life Project under the JoinBodi cohort are working to reduce corruption in the implementation of constituency projects in Kano, Kaduna, Ekiti and Osun states.
Recognising the critical role of investigative journalism in advancing accountability, the foundation is also supporting various newsrooms in conducting investigations and publishing findings that expose wrongdoing and deepen accountability. This flurry of activities backed by the foundation significantly revitalised Nigeria’s civic sector.
Apart from the resoundingly effective outcomes of the anti-corruption work in Nigeria, the MacArthur Foundation was one of the few donor agencies that responded proactively to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to emphasise that, at a time when other donor organisations were suspending financing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the MacArthur Foundation deemed it critical to support an equitable recovery effort. Nigeria again benefited immensely with new projects being designed to respond to the pandemic’s serious effects on ethnic minorities, the youth, women and people living with disabilities.
One of such interventions is the ongoing project of Promoting the Rights of the Original Inhabitants in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, implemented by the CHRICED. The project is a response to the decades-long injustices and marginalisation suffered by the FCT original inhabitants, whose monumental sacrifices ensured the country found a space for its capital. The manifestations of these injustices include the statelessness of the original inhabitants, the lack of compensation for many whose lands were taken over, flagrant disobedience to court rulings in favour of the original inhabitants, the absence of a sub-national governance system, especially the state tier system, to coordinate governance at the local level. There is also the question of the cultural rights of the original inhabitants, with their cultural treasures and repositories being eclipsed by the pace of development in the territory.
As one of the early wins for the project, the Ushafa Pottery Centre located in the outskirts of the capital is undergoing a revival. Before the project, it used to be a ghost town with weeds and rodents all over the place. The original inhabitants project has given the space a new lease of life, and it has, in turn, become a beehive of activities for women and youth. Scores of original inhabitants are on hand to take advantage of the revival of the pottery centre to acquire pottery skills, which would in turn become a basis for sustainable livelihood activities. It’s no surprise that the Ushafa Pottery Centre will be one of the first stops for Palfrey when he arrives in Nigeria. The revival of the centre is the culmination of the MacArthur Foundation’s conviction that marginalised communities deserve a fair deal, especially given the devastation caused by the pandemic.
Armsfree Ajanaku is Programs & Communications Manager at the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education