Otive Igbuzor, PhD

Chief of Staff to the Deputy President of the Senate.






The challenge of development is arguably one of the greatest challenges that has dominated world history. Human beings have always been concerned about how to improve their condition of living and better confront the forces of nature and the environment. Over the years, a lot of progress has been made on how to deal with the challenges of development and improve the standard and condition of living of human beings.

Development theorists and practitioners are agreed that partnership among government, private sector and civil society is the most effective way to achieve sustainable economic and social benefits and achieve the sustainable development goals.[i]

In any modern democracy, there are three organs of government namely executive, legislature and the judiciary. The legislature makes the laws; the executive implements and the judiciary interpret. In most parts of Africa, the legislative arm of government is the least developed because of military intervention in governance. In the 63 years of Nigeria’s post-independence existence, the military has ruled the country for at least twenty-nine years (1966-79 and 1983-1999).

In this paper, we examine how the legislature can work with civil society organisations, development partners and the media to enhance its performance. But first, we explicate the concepts and role of Civil Society Organisations, Development Partners and the media.



The concept of civil society (including NGOs) has been variously described by scholars as imprecise, ambiguous, controversial, nebulous and one of the key words of this epoch.[ii] Some scholars have contended that the rise of civil society is associated with strategies of rolling back the state and has contributed to de-legitimising post-colonial nationalism and re-enforcing neo-liberal theories of the separation of State and society. This is probably why civil society assumed more significance with the end of the cold war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Civil society organisations play very crucial roles. Many scholars have expounded on the roles of the civil society. According to Keane, civil society has two main functions: precautionary against the State-to balance, reconstruct and democratize it, and advocating, expansion  of liberty and equality in civil society itself.[iii] In a similar vein, it has been pointed out that increased role for civil society is seen as a way of assuring accountability through more efficient service delivery and of putting pressure on political rulers- thus creating “participation” and “empowerment” in terms of giving voice to people’s demand for influence and welfare.[iv] According to Shils, the idea of civil society has three main components:

The first is a part of society comprising a complex of autonomous institutions-economic, religious, intellectual and political- distinguishable from the family, the clan, the locality and the State. The second is a part of society possessing a particular complex of relationships between itself and the State and a distinctive set of institutions which safeguard the separation of State and civil society and maintain effective ties between them. The third is a widespread pattern of refined civil manners.[v]

In African countries, as a result of combination of a lot of factors, the State is increasingly incapable of  maintaining law and order and providing for the welfare of citizens. As a result, great expectations are being placed on the civil society to promote participation, empowerment, transparency, accountability and good governance. As noted above, there is no agreement among scholars on the conceptualization of the term civil society. In this paper, we adopt Diamond’s conceptualization  of civil society as “the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, (largely) self-supporting, autonomous from the State”.[vi] . Civil society therefore encompasses professional organizations, town development unions,  trade unions, ethnic organizations, student associations e.t.c. In this conceptualization, civil society include NGOs which are non-profit organizations formed by certain persons who have some vision and mission to pursue and elicit the support of others to pursue usually on specific issues such as environment, human rights, women’s rights, democracy, development, debt, children’s rights, rights of the disabled e.t.c. In this copnceptualisation, NGOs are a subset of civil society organizations. This is in tanden with the position of the UN which refers “the accreditation and participation of civil society, including NGOs.”[vii]


There are many ways by which NGO can be classified. First, NGOs can be classified based on their positioning on development issues. Civil society positioning is influenced by a lot of factors including ideological orientation of the founder and/ or leadership, knowledge and training. The positioning of civil society organizations with respect to development issues can be categorized into four groups: abolitionist, transformist, reformist and conformist.[viii] The Abolitionists argue that the structures and systems in place to deliver on development are illegitimate and constrain freedom and capacity of individuals to bring about development. They recommend the abolition of all structures including governmental structures, private companies, e.t.c. and replacing them with completely new structures. Many of these people will not participate in any government committee or commission because they believe that nothing positive will be achieved until the entire structure is abolished. The abolitionists will therefore not participate in any conference called by government. The Transformists are of the view that that there are fundamental problems with the structures and mechanisms in place to bring about development. They argue that the processes that emanate from the structures and mechanisms are oppressive and exclude the poor. They suggest a fundamental restructuring of the structures and mechanisms to deliver development. The transformists will not participate in a conference called by the government if the process of convocation is not participatory, democratic, open and transparent.

The Reformists see nothing fundamentally wrong with the structures and mechanism. They argue that the problem is with leadership and performance. They suggest that good leadership, discipline and proper management can bring about the desired development. The reformists will participate in any conference or committee set up by government no matter how illegitimate it is in the eyes of civil society. The reformists believe in entreism i.e. that they can go into government by whatever means (election or appointment) to bring about the desired changes. The Conformists see nothing wrong with the system. They just want to be part of the system. Their greatest argument is for the involvement of the civil society in governance and development projects. The conformists are always lobbying for positions in government. They are mostly opportunists.


Secondly, NGOs can be classified into three models according to how they were formed and the membership i.e. traditional model, membership model and entrepreneurship model. In the traditional model, one person or a few people who have a particular vision employ other people as staff to actualize this vision.  The membership model is made up of members who have a shared vision and they volunteer their time, energy and resources to pursue the vision.  The officers of such NGOs are usually elected and they operate through democratic principles. Finally, in the entrepreneurial model, some people with vision and entrepreneurial skills employ staff that share in those vision to bring it to reality. Most of the ones in this model have functional boards.

Thirdly NGOs can be classified according to the motivation of the practitioners. There are those who are interested in transforming society and they see NGOs as avenues to accomplish this. There are also those who build their career as NGO workers. They therefore see NGO work as a career or profession just like any other career or profession. In addition, there are those who utilize civil society activism as a means of survival. They have no job and have no option but to hang on to NGO work as a means of survival. They are prepared to leave NGO work as soon as they get a better job. Finally, there are stooges who utilize NGOs to promote the interest of government (GONGOs) or individuals. Finally, there are quasi- government NGOs formed principally by wives of President, vice-President, Governors and Local Government Chairmen.

Fourthly, NGOs can be classified according to their approaches to development work. We can delineate at least four distinct approaches to development work. First there are NGOs who utilise the welfare/service delivery approach. This approach seeks to provide short term relief to the poor and excluded or to people in emergency situations. This approach merely provides relief and does not look at the factors, structures and institutions that created the problem in the first instance. This approach provides temporary relief to the poor and excluded but will not lead to poverty eradication because it does not tackle the root causes of poverty. Secondly, there are NGOs who go beyond the provision of relief to build the capacity of communities to deal with situations in which they find themselves. For instance, the NGOs will seek to enable communities to improve their agricultural systems so as to deal with the problem of food shortage. Initially, this approach to development was largely externally driven. Thirdly, there are NGOs who utilise the participatory development approach. This approach to development improves on the development approach by giving room for the poor and excluded to participate in the definition of the problem as well as designing context specific responses to the problem. Finally, there are NGOs who utilise the rights-based approach (RBA), a participatory development approach that recognizes the rights of the poor and excluded people as well as the duty of government to meet these rights. RBA recognizes that the poor and excluded people are entitled to fundamental human rights solely by reason of being human. These rights are not privileges. They are not depended on grace or benevolence of rulers. These rights are fundamental, inalienable, universal, interdependent and indivisible. 

  • That the rights are fundamental means that they are basic for human existence.
  • That the rights are inalienable  means that they are entitlements which can not be denied or taken away form an individual without an injury being done to the dignity of that person.
  • That the rights are universal  means that they are recognized in every human society across regions of the world.
  • That the rights are interdependent  means that the loss of one right is a denial of other rights, and the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights in one area support other human rights.
  • That the rights are indivisible  means that they should be addressed as one body; whether they are civil, political, economic, social, cultural, solidarity or collective and respect for them is all encompassing.


The range of rights recognized by RBA can be categorized into:

·       civil and political rights e.g. right to life, personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of movement etc

·       Social and economic rights e.g. right to education, health, work, housing e.t.c

·       Right to development

These rights have been documented and codified and draw principally from three main sources:

1.  International conventions, agreements and charters

2.  National Constitutions

3. National laws and other statutory enactments

The Rights Based Approach (RBA) is premised on the recognition that the rights of individuals impose obligations on the State. It is widely recognized that states have obligations in civil and political rights. But some people argue that there is less obligations in terms of social and economic rights. But we argue that there are three levels of obligations in matters of social and economic rights: obligations to respect, protect and fulfil. The obligation to respect requires states to refrain from interfering with social and economic rights e.g. refrain from forced eviction. The obligation to protect requires states to prevent violations by third parties e.g. ensure that private employers comply with labour standards. The obligation to fulfil requires states to take appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial and other measures towards the full realization of such rights.  It is important to note that apart from the State, other duty bearers are necessary in every society for the enjoyment of rights. These include individuals, families, communities, NGOs, donor agencies, international community and the private sector. The role of NGOs  in RBA is to create awareness, educate in rights and obligations, build capacity of rights holders, organize and mobilize rights holders, advocate for pro-poor policies and provide alternatives. Whenever services are provided by NGOs, it should be to serve as entry points for the NGOs to perform the roles mentioned above more effectively.

It is apt to note that there is a culture that is required to deliver RBA including the need to act as facilitators, enablers or catalyst, empowering others, persistency, analysis and activism. RBA requires challenging of structures and powers of oppressive State officials and institutions as well as traditional systems with risks of possible arrest, intimidation and repression from the state and traditional structures. It therefore requires skills in mobilization, campaigning, advocacy, analysis, communication, research, networking and activism.


A development Partner refers to State, organisation or institution that is committed to an undertaking with another or others in the development process.[ix]  They are committed to contributing to the development process. Development partners can be categorised into embassies; multilateral/bilateral agencies, foundations and International Non-Governmental Organisations.

Development Partners can provide technical assistance to the legislature (including conducting analysis), capacity building, sharing of good practices of legislation and legislative practices across the globe and financial support.

c.      MEDIA

For good governance and development to take place in any country requires communication between citizens and their government. The mass media is the means for communicating to large, heterogenous and widely dispersed audiences. The three main types of mass media today are print media (newspapers and magazines); broadcast media (radio and television) and social media. We can categorise the role of the media in the political arena  into two namely traditional role and new evolving role.

Traditional role of the media is in terms of providing information, education and entertainment. The performance of this role can be further classified into three:[x]

a.     Influencing Public Opinion: The media can influence public opinion on what is reported and how it is reported.

b.     Setting Political agenda: The media can set agenda through the issues that they identify that need government attention. The issues that the media focus upon become the issues that government decision makers and politicians discuss and debate.

c.      Socialisation: The media socialise the people through the kind of news and programmes that they bring to the people. The media can reinforce the hegemony or dominance of the existing political culture and order and make people to accept the way things are or they can challenge the existing political culture and order and make people seek alternatives.

The emerging role of the media is coming on board because globally, there is increasing inequality, concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the political elite are utilising power for their own benefit. This makes it compelling for the media to be at the vanguard of promoting social justice and holding government to account.

The concept of Social Justice has attracted the attention of several scholars and philosophers for the past three centuries- Thomas Paine, John Rawls, John Stuart Mill etc. Social Justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society measured by distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and privileges.[xi] There are several institutions in society that mediate social justice including taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labour laws and regulation of markets to ensure fair distribution of wealth and equal opportunities.

The struggle for equity and justice among humans historically started with the division of society into classes.[xii] Social Justice entails even distribution of wealth and opportunities. Therefore, in a society where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, Social Justice ensure that there are policies and programmes that will lead to redistribution of wealth. The state can make this happen by intervening in the economy.  Only the media and radical civil society can promote these ideas and issues.

One of the greatest developmental challenges facing the world today is inequality. The past five decades have witnessed monumental changes in the world. Global economic wealth has increased sevenfold and average incomes have tripled.[xiii] Yet, poverty has increased to record high levels. The major problem is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people while majority of the people live in abject poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its 1998 report documented that the three richest people in the world had assets that exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries.  According to Oxfam,

As at the start of 2014, Oxfam calculated that the richest 85 people on planet earth owned as much as the poorest half of humanity. Between March, 2013 and March, 2014, these 85 people grew $668 million richer each day. If Bill Gates were to spend $1 million every single day, it will take him 218 years to spend it all. In reality though, he would never run out of money: even at a modest return of just 2 percent would make him $4.2 million each day in interest alone.

By 2015, the number has decreased to  80 richest people having the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent. By 2018, Oxfam showed that only 26 richest people on earth had the same net wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population (3.8 billion) people.[xiv] The 2019 Oxfam report showed that billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent in 2018- or $2.5 billion a day while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11 percent. Meanwhile, the number of billionaires has almost doubled since the financial crisis, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018, yet wealthy individuals and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades.[xv]  The great contribution that legislators of the 10th National Assembly can make will be how to reduce inequality and not to make laws and policies to give waivers to the rich and powerful.

In this regard, the legislature needs to use its legislative oversight function to hold the executive to account. There are many reasons for holding government to account. Holding government to account will promote accountability and transparency and prevent corruption. This is very important in a country like Nigeria where the level of corruption is very high. The problem of corruption is as old as society itself and cuts across nations, cultures, races and classes of people. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges of our times leading to underdevelopment and poor service delivery. Corruption has a lot of negative consequences on every sphere of societal development whether social, economic or political. Corruption not only leads to poor service delivery but loss of lives. Corruption is pervasive in Nigeria with serious negative consequences. Despite the plethora of legislations and agencies fighting corruption in the country, corruption has remained widespread and pervasive because of failure to utilize universally accepted and tested strategies; disconnect between posturing of leaders and their conduct; lack of concrete sustainable anti-corruption programming and failure to locate the anti-corruption struggle within a broader struggle to transform society. This is why it is necessary to for the media to be at the forefront of holding government accountable. In its function of legislative oversight, the media is a potential great partner to the legislator.



It is well established all over the world that democracy is the best form of government even though scholars and practitioners are not agreed on the definition, content and form of democracy.[xvi] But there is agreement that democratic culture needed for the blossoming of democracy requires representation, dialogue and citizen participation.  Modern forms of democracy require that the three organs of government perform their functions effectively. It has been recognised that the legislature which represents the people can serve as a veritable medium for promoting dialogue, citizen participation accountable governance. Unfortunately, Nigeria has had very long years of military rule. Out of the sixty-three years of post-independence Nigeria, the military ruled the country for twenty-nine years. Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The First Republic lasted only six years and the military took over political power by force in 1966. The military ruled for thirteen years and handed over power in 1979. The Second Republic lasted only four years and the military took over again in 1983. The military ruled for another sixteen years and handed over power on 29th May, 1999.  It is important to point out that military rule eroded democratic culture of dialogue, consensus building, representation and legislative oversight. It is clear that the prolonged nature of military rule constricted democratic space, entrenched authoritarianism, and nurtured militarism in Nigeria.  The impact of military rule on the dialogue process was aptly captured by Adebayo Adedeji who argued that:

Whenever it (the military) exercises political power, military administration is perforce infected by the command system. Power is centralized and the approach to governance is inevitably top-down. Debate, discussion and dialogue are replaced by order, decree and command. Disagreement is tantamount to rebellion, and demonstrations are analogous to mutiny. Popular participation in governance is unthinkable. Thirty years of military government did succeed in turning Nigeria into a highly centralized polity.[xvii]

During military rule, the legislative arm of government is the only organ of government that is completely absent.  There is therefore the need for continuing engagement to systematically re-establish the position of the legislature in the democratic process.  Meanwhile, the legislature in Nigeria has faced many challenges including:

    • Overbearing attitude of the executive as a result of military hangover.
    • Bad attitude of some legislators leading to bad publicity.
    • Lack of strategic approach to reposition the legislature.
    • Poor environment of work (Lack of office accommodation, internet services, effective systems and support)

Meanwhile, the roles of the legislature especially in terms of representation, law making, appropriation and oversight are key to consolidating democracy and reaping the dividends of democracy. Therefore, for the legislature to reposition itself and enhance its performance, it must work in partnership with civil society organisations, development partners and the media.



The Civil Society can support the work of the legislature. In Nigeria, the civil society is in the forefront of addressing normative issues that are important for the functioning of society such as the fight against corruption, credible, free and fair elections, vote buying, gender equality and women empowerment, wildlife conservation, environmental conservation, climate change etc. Government officials and political parties hardly champion these issues in Nigeria. Meanwhile, they are important for harmony, stability and the future of the country.

Secondly, civil society organisations provide opportunities for engagement by legislators during law making. More than any other group in the country, civil society organisations make comments on draft bills and participate in public hearings.  The African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) has provided support to reform minded legislators to set agenda for progressive laws, initiate progressive laws and ensure that anti-people laws are not passed in the National Assembly.

Thirdly, civil society organisations support the legislature in capacity building. In the 9th Assembly, a civil society organisation, PLAC supported the office of the Deputy President of the Senate to craft a strategic plan for the office, the first since the return to civil rule in 1999.  In addition, PLAC has conducted training for members and staff of the National Assembly and provided technical advice to different committees on bill drafting, research and analysis. Indeed, PLAC has created public understanding and awareness about the work and role of the NASS and has succeeded in building a constellation of engagement between civil society and the National Assembly through the creation of the civil society liaison office.

Fourthly, civil society organisations can support the work of the legislature in oversight. The weakest link in the work of legislators in Nigeria is oversight.  In 2018, Citizens groups with the support of PERL developed a budget tracking template that citizens groups can use to monitor budgets and the NASS can then utilise the report in their oversight work. There is the need for the 10th National Assembly to re-examine the template.

Finally, there are civil society organisations that can support the work of the Senate and House committees. It will be great for legislators to do a mapping of civil society organisations that can support the work of their committees. Civil Society organisations and development partners can make legislators to shine. This is very important today especially as performance by legislators is increasingly becoming important for their return to the National Assembly.  

Some Civil Society Organisations that have engaged with the National Assembly since return to civil rule include Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guide of Editors, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD), Women in Politics (WIP), Women Aid Collective (WACOL), Women Advocates and Research Documentation Centre (WARD C) etc.

There is a Gender Technical Unit in the National Assembly to support the National Assembly. The Gender Technical Unit is a research and documentation centre which focuses on supporting the legislature by providing capacity building, research on gender laws based on best practices around the world and building links between the legislature and civil society.[xviii]



Development Partners that have engaged the National Assembly include embassies such as the US Embassy, the British High Commission, Canadian High Commission, Japanese Embassy, Cuban Embassy and South Korean Embassy; Multilateral and Bilateral agencies such as the UN System (UNDP, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNESCO, WHO etc), World Bank, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)- formerly UK Department for International Development (DfID), European Union, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), African Development Bank, African Union, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Economic Community of West African States  (ECOWAS); Foundations such as Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI) and Henrich Boll Foundation; and INGOs such as ActionAid, Christian Aid, Water Aid, Oxfam, PLAN International, Care International, Save the Children etc.

Since return to civil rule in 1999, development partners have supported the National Assembly in conducting analysis, stakeholder engagement, knowledge sharing and financial support to organise programmes and public hearing. In the 9th National Assembly, the UN Women supported the National Assembly in the constitution amendment process. Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), a programme of FCDO supported the review of the legislative agenda and implementation framework of the House of Representatives; supported the Public Accounts Committee to align its procedures with the Auditor General’s office; supported the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation to enhance their systems and processes to be fit for purpose; supported the Senate Committee on Planning and Economic Development on periodic review of National Budget Performance to enable the Committee engage effectively  and linkage between citizens and the National Assembly during budget hearings. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) provided analysis and supported a workshop to strengthen women’s participation in the National Assembly.


The National Assembly has  robust structures and approaches for engaging with the media. There is an information directorate in the Office of the Clerk that handles information for the bureaucracy and transmission of proceedings to the press. In addition, there are spokespersons for the Senate and House of Representatives. Moreover, the Principal Officers of both houses have media units and media aides. Some legislators consider media very important and appoint media aides. Furthermore, there are media organisations designated to cover the National Assembly with their own correspondents which have been formed into the Senate and House Press Corps. They report independently to their organisations. There is the need for the 10th National Assembly to consider harmonisation and synergy between the various media units.






The legislature has a critical role to perform in the development of Nigeria. Given the political history of Nigeria, there is the need to reposition the legislature to perform its role of law making, representation and oversight. Civil Society Organisations, Development Partners and the media can support the work and help to reposition the National Assembly.

There are many Nigerians who have erroneous perception about the role of civil society in governance and think that CSOs should be controlled or that their roles should be constricted. Therefore, since return to civil rule, there has been various attempts to sponsor NGO bills to emasculate and weaken CSOs. This is counter productive and not in the interests of the legislature or the consolidation of democracy. Civil Society Organisations, Development Partners and the media will be of great support to the National Assembly and the 10th National Assembly should court and work collaboratively with Civil Society Organisations, Development Partners and the media.


[i] World Bank (2000), Working Together: The World Bank’s Partnership with Civil Society. Washington DC, World Bank.

[ii] Beckman, B., Hansson, E. and Sjogren, A. (Eds)

[iii] Keane, J. (1988),

[iv] Sjogren, A. (2001)

[v] Quoted in J. Ibrahim (2001)

[vi] Diamond, L. (1994)S

[vii] Quoted in Grant, W. (2002)

[viii] This categorization is an adaptation of categorization by Ramesh Sighn, CEO of ActionAid International at the Induction of New Country Directors in Johanesburg in December, 2004.

[ix] Suleiman, M. A and Benna, U. G (2019), Imndustrial and Urban Growth Policies at the Sub-National, National and Global Levels

[x] Janda, K, Berry, J. M. and Goldman, J (1999), The Challenge of Democracy: The Essentials. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company.

[xii] Igbuzor, O (2009), Perspectives on Democracy and Development. Lagos, Joe-Tolalu & Associates.

[xiii] Watkins, Kevin (2000), The Oxfam Poverty Report. An Oxfam Publication

[xiv] Oxfam 2019 Inequality Report

[xv] Oxfam ibid

[xvi] Igbuzor, O (2005), Perspectives on Democracy and Development. Lagos, Joe Tolalu and Associates

[xvii] Adedeji, A. (2003), “Transiting from Low-Intensity Democracy to Participatory Democracy: What Prospects for Nigeria? in Abayomi, F., Atilade, D. and Matswanigbe, M. (Eds), Constitutional reform and Federalism in Nigeria. Lagos, Ajasin Foundation.

[xviii] Agora Policy (2022), How to Deepen Gender, Social and Political Inclusion in Nigeria. The Agora Policy Report. No. 3, December, 2022.