I was thinking about the difference between Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Civil Society Individuals (CSI) in Nigeria and feeling that the latter are very prevalent and extremely harmful to the sector. Previously, I was more familiar with CSI as the acronym for Crime Scene Investigation, one of my favourite television programmes, rather than anything existing in development! I wanted to blog on this CSO/CSI matter because in recent months concerns have been expressed about shrinking civic space in Nigeria. I am very alive to this issue which poses a huge threat to the quality of Nigeria’s democratic growth.  However, as civil society voice such concerns, they should also recognise that some within their own ranks are very much part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
If CSOs are truly acting in the interest of increasing accountability, transparency and working to help those they claim to represent, this mandate does not lend itself to operating as a CSI.  In comparing CSOs and CSIs there is one fundamental difference – the former leads with vision and purpose, whilst the latter leads with ego and arrogance - this applies to any organisation...  It is important that such individuals are not only focused on the causes they claim to represent, but also the characteristics, principles and values they transmit to staff, supporters and other observers.  

Legitimacy and credibility are what makes CSO operations and advocacy effective in civic spaces. This requires attention to internal governance and accountability - basically CSOs practicing what they preach as “demand side” actors.  Generally, CSIs operate in an “Oga at the top” structure, rather than creating functional organisations where staff feel safe to challenge and keep their jobs.  It is easy to spot such “bullish” leadership and management styles, which I consider a travesty, particularly in the CSO sector, as this flies in the face of social justice which civil society exists to protect. People are exposed to intimidation, exploitation and victimisation operating in such spaces, by those who should know better.  There are high risks for individuals working in this “unregulated space” and organisations supporting the sector.  Organisations which have poor job security and management will not attract good professionals – perhaps this is intentional to avoid internal challenge.  CSIs cannot produce a credible organisational strategy when seeking funding because this is not how they are wired – they start…(and end) with a project proposal to get money!  CSIs are not really interested in growth, but driven by greed, and therefore just as corrupt as those they criticise.  Perhaps this is where a Crime Scene Investigation is needed! I support the efforts of Anti-Corruption Agencies and other accountability institutions in calling CSIs to account, because they rob citizens of resources; pose barriers to development and reduce the credibility of CSOs by their actions.  I think these factors contribute to shrinking civic space more than any actions taken by Government, because civic space naturally shrinks if  not used effectively.     

CSOs should consider ways to self-regulate, strengthen and embark on a serious cleansing process to remove corrupt elements that give others a bad name and make it difficult to progress serious causes.  I have great admiration for some of the CSOs I have encountered in Nigeria, who are clearly up to the task required of demand side actors and are bravely working in the interest of the country.  But CSIs motivated by greed, who see civic space as a “chopping” space must be held to account by those who are committed to tackling corruption in all its harmful forms.   

Sonia Warner