Ayittey writes on how CSOs can be effective in Nigeria

Professor George Ayittey

I commend you all for taking action to demand accountability and service from your local government. The pictures in the Citizen Report are telling: putrid cesspools of rotting sewage that are clearly health hazards.

As rightly noted, there is total government dysfunction and few, if any, services – such as clean water, electricity, health care or sanitation – are provided to citizens by local governments. But a caution would be in order.

Don’t take on more than you can chew. It is best to start with something small and be successful and then build on that success to tackle something bigger. So it might be wise for Beacon Nigeria to break up into smaller groups – one to tackle clean water, another to tackle electricity, another health care and another sanitation. Also find out if other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are engaged in this effort and work with them, so that there is no duplication of effort.

There are two ways of rectifying the situation. Just holding rah-rah noisy street protests won’t cut it. A smart and targeted strategy must be adopted. The first is to target and hold the local government responsible for providing that service accountable by making it do what it is supposed to do. There are several ways of doing this: Shame them (through exposure in the media – newspaper, television, etc); threaten to sanction them (for example, not voting for them at elections) or you can take legal action (say sue them in court). Each strategy has to be carefully thought out.

Public official in charge must be identified; ensure that the media and the police are on your side of the campaign. For example, you may set up a dinner table, complete with a bottle of wine, roasted chicken, etc. by the cesspool you photographed. Take another picture and invite the Police Chief or a newspaper editor to join you for dinner. See if they will accept that invitation. You can turn that photo into a large poster that reads: Would you like to have dinner with me? You can use a beautiful model seated at the table, if you get the idea.

Engage in 3 rounds of “SHAME” campaigns: Distribute the posters to the media, the police and the public official/agency responsible for providing that service. If after three rounds nothing is done, then the next step is either to take LEGAL ACTION or OCCUPY that public agency until the service is rendered. It is important to “give notice” (3 rounds of shame campaign) before taking drastic action (legal action or occupation).

The second is the CHEETAH approach. A Cheetah sees a social problem – for example, lack of sanitation – as a BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. Accra faced a similar sanitation problem with filth and stinking gutters. An entrepreneur called Joseph Agyapong, set up a company called ZOOMLION (waste management — to clean up the city. The local government contracts him to perform the service.

He has been remarkably successful, winning awards — Perhaps you can set up a similar company in Lagos called ZOOMCHEETAH. It will not only provide better sanitation but also employment for the youth.

Prof Ayittey is a Native of Ghana, Economics Professor, Author and President, Free Africa Foundation, in Washington, DC

Follow him on twitter @ayittey

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