Ancient Roman mythology, like the earlier Greek and Egyptian myths, is replete with the heroics and evil actions of a pantheon of gods. A scrutiny of the deities reveals either mimicry or near similar attributes of the characters of the gods running through the three civilisations. However, the Roman mythology stands unique in one area: the presence of the god Janus. Janus is the god of striking contradictions, reflected in his depiction as a double-faced deity. Although the faces are mirror images of each other, they depart from the Chinese Ying-Yang complementarity by being direct opposites of each other. So, at once, Janus is the god of peace and conflict, of beginnings and transitions, honesty and deceit. With Janus, you never know what face you may be confronted with at any point in time. After more than two decades as a social activist in Nigeria, carving niches in students' movement and development practice, the writer has witnessed the gradual metamorphosis of development practice in Nigeria into a Janus-faced behemoth effusing moral and social contradictions.
Nostalgic recollections of a strong socio-political movement that withstood the onslaught of tyranny unleashed by successive military dictatorships on the populace seems to be what is left in the memory of folks that experienced the defiance of social crusaders of yore. Tragically, the badge of activism and proud sobriquet of "Comrade" which identified a class of individuals that stood as the conscience of the oppressed now almost evinces an embarrassing cloak of deceit. Disturbingly, many of yesterday's vanguards of the crusade for the respect of human dignity and promotion of social justice are today's purveyors of a development scam while lurking under a glorious past to deceive an undiscerning polis. It is these Janus-faced merchants of development practice in Nigeria that this week's engagement in public discourse is set to bifurcate. As we inch closer to another election circle, a separation of the right face of the Janus from the wrong has become critical in helping citizens attain clarity of purpose.
The dominant pro-democracy organisations during the military interregnum were mostly ideological movements with radical bents and a disciplined leadership that would not brook any attempts to compromise its resolve or ethos. The strong leadership and organisational discipline which was the overarching principle that held the movements together was etched in a broad perception of left ideologies of the Marxist strand and ensured that contrarian interlopers stayed the course. A conscious layer of student activists who drew their revolutionary inspiration and guidance from organisations such as the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria(PYMN) and Socialist Congress of Nigeria(SCON) was not difficult to find. With the resilience of military dictatorship in the early 90s, the Civil Liberties Organization(CLO) and later Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights(CDHR)became the main points of organised convergence for the forces of opposition against military rule. Of course, the NADECO and other such loose coalitions of human rights groups provided cannon fodder for the defeat of the powers of military hegemony. A slew of unrelated incidents weakened the grip of these ideological hubs on their members.
The Glasnost and Perestroika reforms in the old Soviet Union effectively made capitalism the dominant ideology in the global political economy, and the sustained opposition to military rule in Nigeria had started yielding fruits with the decision of the junta to conduct elections in 1999 paving the way for a return of civil government. Many of the members of the left movements who constituted a bulwark against military rule started establishing and working for nongovernmental organisations. As a newly democratising state, International Nongovernmental Organisations(INGOs) and donor agencies flooded the civic space with vast sums of money which were made mainly available to many of the faces of opposition to the military that had established nongovernmental structures and with it, the growth and proliferation of development practice in Nigeria. In the broadest sense of context, the early pro-democracy movements in the 90s were in themselves civil society organisations to the extent that they represented the aggregation of the conscience and will of the people outside the strictures of government. Many of those heroes of the democratic struggles are still holding the touch light of integrity and constitute the moral compass that drives the quest for a just and equitable society for Nigeria. This piece salutes them and is by no means an attack on their legacies. However, there exists a posse of sleek development operators who hide behind the achievements of the era of the struggle for the enthronement of democratic norms to foreground corruption in the civic space while clothing themselves in sanctimonious garbs ala the Janus.
Nowhere was the wave of resentment, anger and disgust expressed more vociferously than within civil society communes following the revelation of the grand corruption of the Babachir-affair infamously dubbed "grasscutter-gate". The media had a field day interviewing various development actors on their opinion over the issue and these, having been served an opportunistic volley, did not hold back in the smashing condemnation of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation. These actors called for a quick dispense of justice to serve as a deterrent to others who may want to steal from the downtrodden heartlessly. The slightest hint that this was a Janus posturing was first revealed by the heinous and reprehensible initiation of a Bill in the House of Representatives(HOR) to regulate the affairs of NGOs in the country. One of the reasons the HOR adduced for promoting a most backward and vicious Bill that would effectively gag organised opposition to the government was the role played by some NGOs and their promoters in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) scam. But the import of the HOR allegation was obfuscated by the ramifications of the proposed Bill on free speech.
However, the disgrace of the sleight of hand displayed by development agencies in the corruption that engulfed IDP relief operations was accentuated by the Communique of a Townhall meeting hosted by the Say No Campaign in Adamawa state. The damning report chillingly recounted how civil society organisations colluded with government officials and international NGOs to divert aids and funds meant for IDPs. The report poignantly divulged how "Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) receive funds from foreign donors to supply food and medical relief to IDP camps, but rather than deliver, they merely hoisted banners to feign delivery while these materials ended up in their private clinics and in marketplaces". This iniquitous rape of decency and profiteering from the misfortune of folks who were at their prostrate worst could only be conjured and executed by individuals that lacked any fibre of humanism left in them.
Sadly, this revelation did not break in the media simply because the perpetrators were the rambunctious set of "expert analysts" on good governance, democratic ethos and anti-corruption that continuously occupy our living room spaces in television news programs. Indeed, they are the same group of shameless development experts that are consulted by government agencies and international NGOs on everything ethics, equity, justice and transparency. But, these Janus-faced development merchants are not new to this practice. In fact, what the Say No Campaign revealed was corroboration of how these development merchants have foregrounded their grip on the civic space through sex, cronyism and blatant corruption. To further bolster this argument, a journey into the rarefied and stultifying world of development practice in Nigeria would be explored.
Development practice in Nigeria is like no other. As earlier stated, many of the established faces of development practice in Nigeria today were yesterday's pro-democracy advocates and activists. These individuals either functioned within the ideological movements of the time or through nebulous coalitions set up to harangue the military into a retreat from politics. As with popular movements, many shadowy, characterless and reactionary elements found themselves playing roles and occupying positions in these organisations. Characteristically, these individuals could not resist the urge to behave to type even with the strong-will of the core and the discipline that such movements demand. The modus operandi of these individuals as they morphed into development merchandising or what the unsuspecting public refer to as NGOs will reveal a pattern of sex, cronyism and corruption. Not many will know that one of the world's innovative women-focused organisations that allowed men into its ranks in gender advocacy flourished in Nigeria in the mid-80s to early 90s but allegedly broke up due to infighting that resulted from the disbursement of donor funds and accusations of sexual harassment against some of its members. The squabbles within that pioneer organisation was to snowball out of control when many ranking male members started conscripting their unqualified spouses to head sensitive positions in the body. Many members would pull out to clone similar structures in a bid to attract donor funds to themselves deceptively. At the heart of the sexual harassment and gratification, cronyism and corruption in Nigeria's development practice are donor funding. While most Nigerians are bewildered by the firm grip of a coterie of aides on the president, a comparative similitude pervades development practice in Nigeria wherein a handful of individuals have a stranglehold on which organisations receive grants.
On the surface, there may seem to be a semblance of due process and competitive bidding in the award of funds by donor agencies, especially the ones with a presence in the country, but a more in-depth probe will reveal a can of disgusting worms. Although an attempt is made to create an appearance of functionality, many of the vehicles through which these development merchants attract funds lack proper governance structures that permit for transparency and accountability. The organogram of these NGOs is deliberately made to be very sophisticated, but this is just a facade as the entire operations of these organisations are in the hands of the Head or ‘owner' of the organisation. So, when an account retirement document is sent to a donor agency, there is rarely any unique auditing process to verify contents of the audited account by donees. Perhaps, the lack of effective and efficient auditing process may not be because of a lack of capacity to initiate same but due to the deep penetration and capture of some funding agencies, achieved through an intricate kickback mechanism of gratification that is instituted between staff of the donor agencies and donees. The kickback received ranges from a percentage slice of the award sum to sexual relationships between key personnel of the donor agencies and the beneficiary organisations.
The Say No Campaign's revelations earlier mooted unearthed a pattern of collusion between international NGOs/donor partners and their Nigeria counterparts/ donor recipients in the disbursement of relief materials to IDPs. However, the complicity is much deeper than that, as some of the staff of these donor agencies and international NGOs, in total disregard of the ethics of their jobs now set up some local NGOs ostensibly to award grants to these organisations controlled by them. In perpetrating this conflict of interest, they recruit known development merchants to run the organisations for them. These organisations, with the unfair advantage already conferred on them, are seen "winning" most supposedly competitive bids for grants, of course, their proposals benefited from prescience. Beyond the conflict of interest identified in some donor funding, there is also the prevalence of cronyism in the award of project grants. In this regard, the old boys' network is usually activated and at play particularly in some grant-making organisations with Nigerian Heads. The round-tripping of grants through cronies is substantiated by an interesting legal but unethical interpretation of grant-making rules to suit the peculiarities of organisations owned by members of the network. Where a competitive bidding is called, organisations within this network are already ahead of the unsuspecting pack given their special relationships with the hierarchy of the grant-making organisation.
The Nigerian development practice may not be peculiar in its operations compared to what operates outside our climes. To be fair, such crude and blatant manipulation of process may not be present, but a subtler circumventing of ethics in the quest for funding is nonetheless present in a few international agencies that have a presence here in Nigeria. Perhaps, the Nigerian species borrows a leaf from her foreign counterparts. Consider this: following the withdrawal of four million dollars from its funding by the Australian government, Transparency International(TI), arguably the world's foremost anti-corruption organisation, approached Siemens to fill the void through the Siemens Integrity Initiative(SII). The SII is a 100 million dollar fund the World Bank forced the company to set aside following its indictment for bribery of several Third World Countries' leaders while conducting business in those countries. While TI's request is not illegal, consider that in 2009, in a press statement, TI scathingly rebuked and lampooned Siemens for its indictment for corruption. Interestingly, TI's own internal processes and due diligence guidelines prohibited it from seeking donations from a donor such as Siemens by stating categorically that "TI would not accept a donation from a company that was found to have engaged in corruption unless the company could demonstrate that this was a violation of the company's policies, and that breach of these policies was being addressed in an appropriate manner." Unsurprisingly, the Head of TI’s Brussels office would resign to go join the SII in 2013. Nigeria was one of the countries where Siemens fiendishly subverted due process and gained business favours through bribery of officials. Siemens is currently under corruption investigation in more than 10 countries around the world, mostly in developing countries.
Consider again that while many donor agencies forbid local NGOs from seeking funding from their governments, these agencies are always caps in hands in search of funding from their own home governments and institutions who warehouse stolen funds from developing countries. It is therefore not disappointing that many of the local development merchants would act the way they do, there is simply no exemplary or coercive force extracting from them a commitment to transparency and accountability beyond the perfunctory ritual of an arguably doctored accounts retirement. I make bold to state that the grant-making organisations themselves are aware of the financial loopholes in those documents. For instance, I am aware that the current Head of the anti-corruption unit of a major donor agency in Nigeria is someone that was accused of embezzling donor funds and doctoring documents to cover up the odious act while in the service of a local NGO. Of course, this individual was shielded from the consequences of that opprobrious action. Needless to point out that a ‘quid pro quo' relationship now exists between the local NGO that aided the cover-up and the individual in this grant dispensing position. It will be disingenuous to tar every development worker in Nigeria with a brush of corruption and cronyism. There are many genuine, transparent and incorruptible development actors in Nigeria that have made landmark achievements around good governance. These individuals and their organisations continue to shine the light and lead the way in the quest for a just and equitable society. Their influence is felt in the way the government is being held accountable for their actions through the advocacies that they champion. To these, we salute their courage. However, their successes are drowned by the Janus-faced actions of the vocal few who bestride development practice like a colossus, fouling the refreshing smell of ‘A Luta' with the stench of their duplicitous anomie.
Dr. Chima Amadi, a 2016 Chevening Scholar at the Department of Government of the London School of Economics is the Executive Director of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy.