We shouldn’t focus on COVID-19 but what made the pandemic look bad – CSOs

A group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have called for a better approach in handling various sectors of Africa’s economy.

The CSOs made the call during a virtual meeting organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) on Thursday, June 25, 2020.

The meeting themed, “Civil Society and COVID-19: Navigating Changes and Adapting Practices” sought ways CSOs could navigate through the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe to serve local community towards achieving sustainable development and good governance.

Welcoming participants and panelists to the event, the Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan, said discussions have continued around the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic with none focused on the kind of works that the CSOs do across Africa.

Hassan said: “We’ve never had a discussion that looks at how we operate as a civil society organisation, the challenges that we are going to be facing and what we can actually do better.”

“We need to look at the civil society and how we can navigate through the challenges during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Hassan added.

Moderating the session, Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, the Director for Africa and West Asia at the Institute of Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) said this is the time for civil society organisations to go back to the drawing board and find solutions to the challenges.

Speaking at the event Innocent Chukwuma, a Director, West Africa at the Ford Foundation, decried the non-participation of African countries in the research for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Decrying the fact that countries within the African continent have not been part of the research process going on for the discovery of COVID-19 vaccine, Chukwuma queried the continent’s fate.

“Even if a vaccine is discovered tomorrow, how fast can Africans have access to it?” The human rights advocate asked.

He said: “Nations of the continent are not part of the process except for maybe, South Africa.”

Continuing, he asked: “What moral right will African countries have to demand the vaccine to get to the people when it is finally discovered?”

Chuwkuma called on civil society organisations in Nigeria to begin to do things differently as many of these organisations are going through legitimacy and accountability issues.

He added that most non-governmental organisations are struggling in this period of the pandemic because of their inability to adapt to the times COVID-19 had created.

“NGOs are struggling with adapting to structures within donor agreement especially with fixed agreements,” Chukwuma said.

According to him, CSOs need to work together to ensure that plans are mapped out to scale through the crisis period especially with, changes in policies which are the biggest challenges.

He said: “There is need to partner with local groups to cut the cost of the work that we do and again leadership is crucial in the face of changing work environment that COVID-19 has placed on us especially our female staff.”

Chukwuma said the leadership of organisations in this period must focus on making sure that employees know they understand what they (the employees) are going through.

“Groups need to engage progressive epidemiologists to explore alternative view-points to COVID-19,” Chukwuma said.

Continuing, he said: “We need to retrace and look at the CSO’s wisdom that guided us in the past 20-30 years, go beyond the capacity building, institutional training and look at the models that guide our work.”

Speaking on what the shape of leadership within the CSOs should be, Amina Salihu, a senior program officer at the MacArthur Foundation, the difficult thing to do at the moment is, what is common?

Salihu said, if everything were to be easy and governments across the continent are doing the right thing, then there would be no need for CSOs.

Stating that COVID-19 is one of the difficult things that need to be addressed, Salihu said, in times of emergency, there is always that opportunity for leaders to cease the money for with good or bad.

She called on leaders of all CSOs across Nigeria and Africa as a whole to find ways to collaborate with the government using the right tools for a difference.

“The pandemic of violence and hunger has only been exacerbated by COVID-19; we have seen an increase in human rights abuses and domestic violence as women and girls can no longer escape their abusers,” Salihu said.

She urged CSOs to arise to the occasion as catalysts of change to ensure they engage in an evidence-based analysis that would produce positive results so desired.

They should be facilitators rather than being a confiscator of agencies.

“What is our inter-generational plan? How do we reproduce ourselves?” She queried.

Salihu said CSOs must adopt tools that will encourage community participation through community-based organisations.

“CSOs need to have strong organising, authority in the context of accountability, voices of the minority need to be given a platform to rise, ” Salihu said.

In his address, Jude Ilo, the Country Officer and Head of Nigeria Office for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) said COVID-19  presented an unprecedented opportunity for creativity.

“What COVID-19 has done is to amplify what is already in existence. We should not just focus on COVID-19 but what has made COVID-19 look this bad and demand change,” Ilo said.

He said that while CSOs are now seen as an elitists sector, organisations must learn to function beyond their comfort zones with the private sector, labour and even politicians to achieve results.

Ilo said as part of self-regulation, CSOs also need to call out themselves when people go out of what should be the norm.