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Nigerian Civil Society Faces Challenges During Democratic Shift

Activist Ibrahim Zikirullahi Explores Decline in Civic Participation and Accountability in Government

by Adenike Adeodun

Ibrahim Mualeem Zikirullahi, a seasoned civil society activist with over 20 years of experience, recently spoke about the changing landscape of Nigeria’s civil society. Known as Comrade Zik, he serves as the Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), which promotes inclusive political culture in Nigeria. Zikirullahi has garnered numerous accolades for his contributions to leadership and election monitoring.

In an interview with Opeyemi Bamidele of the Guardian Nigeria, Zikirullahi evaluated the current state of civil society within Nigeria’s open democratic space. He described the civil society sector as weakened and submissive, a condition he attributes to the legacy of military dictatorship and a lack of sustained support for civic actors. Only a few non-governmental organizations manage to secure donor funding, which is often a strenuous endeavor that does not reflect the broader civil society.

Zikirullahi observed that during the military regimes, civil society faced severe restrictions and crackdowns which diminished their influence and silenced many activists. The transition to civilian governance hasn’t substantially improved the situation, as civil society still struggles to operate freely and independently. Additionally, limited financial resources and stringent donor requirements make it challenging for these organizations to function effectively and advocate for public rights.

The activist also highlighted the issue of civil society actors who have compromised their integrity by embracing corruption, ethnic biases, and religious justifications. The fear of government reprisal has led to self-censorship among activists, diminishing their ability to challenge governmental abuses effectively.

Zikirullahi expressed concern that the civil society’s vibrancy has significantly declined, allowing politicians to operate unchecked. This issue, he noted, was not merely a result of activists joining government ranks or aligning with political parties, a trend that started before 2014 but became particularly noticeable with the political shifts that year.

Reflecting on President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure and the initial year of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, Zikirullahi criticized both for failing to deliver significant changes promised during their campaigns. Under Buhari, Nigeria faced extreme hardships, and Tinubu’s policies have yet to diverge from his predecessor’s unpopular decisions. This continuity has exacerbated unemployment, poverty, and general insecurity across the country.

Regarding the alignment of civilian policies with the aspirations of civil societies that fought against military rule, Zikirullahi pointed out several misalignments. He criticized the limited scope for citizen participation, which is generally restricted to manipulated electoral processes that fail to reflect genuine democratic choice. The lack of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and the continuation of a military-imposed constitution further alienates civil society groups looking to foster a more democratic national development.

Zikirullahi also addressed the rise of military coups in some ECOWAS countries, attributing the trend to widespread disenchantment with corrupt political leadership. He advised these nations to follow democratic processes, citing the recent electoral change in Senegal as a model where citizens united to oust corrupt politicians through the ballot rather than military intervention.

Zikirullahi remains deeply engaged in advocating for transparency, accountability, and participatory governance. He continues to lead initiatives aimed at enhancing maternal and child healthcare, supporting youth employment, and promoting education while fighting against corruption and advocating for better governance practices across Nigeria. His long-term vision is for a Nigeria that truly embodies the principles of democracy, prioritizing the well-being of its citizens above all.


Source: The Guardian

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