The battle to reverse the image of Nigeria as “the poorest oil-rich country in the world” is once again attracting relatively hefty funding intervention from the Chicago based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Foundation is sinking over two billion Nigerian Naira, (N2, 340, 000, 000) or USD$6.5m towards generating and sustaining anti-corruption and pro-accountability campaigns and practices in Nigeria. It said so in Abuja today in a statement by the African Director of the Foundation, Dr Kole Shettima. The funding is to advance anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria by building an atmosphere of accountability, transparency, and good governance in the country.
Although the idea of Nigeria as “the poorest oil-rich country in the world” can be said to be dated now, even within the American establishment where Sandy Berger, the late National Security Adviser to then President Clinton used it at a press briefing ahead of Clinton’s visit to Nigeria in 2000, the British establishment has updated it by the statement of the immediate past Prime Minister declaring Nigeria to a fantastically corrupt country in 2016. Such images of Nigeria are not necessarily real but images can produce reality such as when then President Clinton told then President Obasanjo at a Press Conference at the White House in late 1999 that Nigeria was too rich to qualify for debt forgiveness by the US. Sandy Berger and Clinton were friends long before Clinton became president and he became his NSA. What Clinton verbalised might have been the standard shared understanding of corruption in Nigeria for a much longer time within the circle that runs America.
Intervention understands that the argument within and around MacArthur Foundation, is that almost every other malaise plaguing the Nigerian political economy is reducible, in the last instance, to corruption and lack of accountability. That is, if the military hasn’t got up to date technology to fight insurgencies, it is most likely that is because large chunk of public resources have been stolen. The same thing if there are no hospitals. Above all, it is impossible to enthrone merit in a corrupt society because mediocres with money will buy their way and come first. Although this newspaper has understood that this assessment of corruption and crisis in Nigeria was substantially based on input by Nigerians, it corresponds to the feeling in major centres of power across the world. Within the Nigerian elite, there is, however, deep division about when is an anti-corruption move not devoid of power and vice-versa.
The Foundation is focusing on reducing incidences of petty corruption that it says citizens experience every day but also grand corruption that siphon needed resources from the public sector as well as strengthening the criminal justice system and building citizen demand for and confidence in anti-corruption efforts through support for independent media, journalism, and entertainment organizations.
To be operationalised as part of the Foundation’s On Nigeria grantmaking, this batch of the grants is a continuation of MacArthur’s recent interventions in support for organizations working to capitalize on observable national momentum and increased political will to tackle corruption, with projects ranging from monitoring and transparency measures around the political process to public education about the costs of corruption. The grants would specifically support nonprofits platforms working to inform and empower communities in the fight against corruption and to promote anti-corruption as a national priority in advance of the 2019 Presidential and Assembly elections. Strengthening systems and studying what works to reduce corruption is a key objective of the grants.
In all, the awards build on decades of Foundation support for projects to enhance credibility, integrity, monitoring, and security around past elections, said Dr. Shettima who also added that Nigeria “ has begun an important process of addressing the corruption that plagues it on so many levels”, adding how important it is now than ever before to keep anti-corruption work on the front burner and at the center of the national agenda by empowering people and communities with the information and platforms they need to advocate for themselves and fight for the issues that impact their daily lives.
Among the implementers of the grants are, in the words of the Director, the Accountability Research Center in Washington, D.C. which would be partnering with the Center for Democracy and Development, (CDD) in Nigeria to assess the success of approaches and strategies on strengthening accountability around the world and in Nigeria; the Centre for Information Technology & Development in Kano which would support efforts by civil society organizations to provide platforms and forums for social discourse around accountability and anti-corruption in advance of the 2019 elections and the Chatham House in London which would research the efficacy of behavioral change strategies to reduce corruption and promote accountability in Nigeria.
Others are the Lagos based Legal Defense and Assistance Project positioned to support efforts by six states to fully implement 15 core elements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that should improve criminal investigation and prosecution efforts in corruption cases; the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja that is to support efforts by civil society organizations to galvanize public and political debates on accountability and to keep anti-corruption as an important national issue in advance of the 2019 elections; the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation in Abuja that would be working to support regional organizations to galvanize public and political debates on accountability and highlight anti-corruption as a broad national issue in advance of the 2019 National election and, lastly, the Women’s Rights Advancement & Protection Alternative in Abuja which would be mobilizing and supporting women and women’s groups to document the cost of corruption on women, speak out against corruption as well as promote anti-corruption and accountability as priority issues through traditional and social media in advance of the 2019 elections.
Dr Shettima’s statement recalled how MacArthur has been making grants in Nigeria since 1989, opening an office in Abuja in 1994 staffed by Nigerians. By the grant, the Foundation is leveraging on the power that comes from the management of discourse and discourse flow across the civil society platforms implementing this particular grant. It is not clear why there are two or three of them based outside Nigeria such as the Accountability Research Centre in Washington DC and Chatham House in London. It may not be connected with their experience or expertise or, alternatively, strengthening operationalisation of the ideals of the grant by bringing in well located platforms as those.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation seeks to support people who could be described as creative ones, institutions that could be rated as effective and networks that can be called influential vis-a-vis “building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world”. MacArthur is also held up to be placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges such as over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. It has of late added the role of journalism in responsible and responsive democracy to its Fellows Program without drawing down on its focus on the strength and vitality of its headquarters city, Chicago in the United States.
It would be recalled that in July 2017, Macarthur Foundation also pumped $9m into strengthening anti-corruption and pro-accountability consciousness activities in Nigeria, arguing that addressing corruption requires action and partnership among a wide range of people and groups, from the government to the media, civil society, communities and consumers. The grant then which stretched across several civil society platforms was pegged on reinforcing and expanding the growing network of organisations committed to investigation, advocacy, accountability and transparency.