Turn the page, Matthew Page

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The widely circulated “research paper” by the US secret agent Matthew Page titled “Fake Civil Society: The Rise of pro-Government NGOs in Nigeria” must rank as one of the most deceitful imperialist injections into political discourse in Nigeria in recent times. Page was described in his profile as “U.S. intelligence community’s top Nigeria expert at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He has also served on the National Intelligence Council, at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and as an international Affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.”

The paper’s preamble stated, “The Carnegie Endowment is grateful to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for research funding that helped make the writing of this paper possible. The views contained herein are those of the author alone.” That the “research” was conducted by a US secret agent and was jointly sponsored by these imperialist agencies easily reveals its intent: to put down Nigeria’s democratisation efforts and try to drag it back under the apron strings of foreign powers.

Matthew Page’s paper claimed that Nigeria’s “kleptocratic, power-hungry but also image-conscious ruling elites” are trying to stymie the country’s “dynamic and expansive civil society” with its “independence, outspokenness and unwavering commitment to democracy, transparency and human rights” by cultivating “a new generation of pro-government non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. Like the fake grassroots groups bankrolled by past military juntas, these surrogate organizations masquerade as authentic civil society groups, singing the praises of top officials and attacking their critics.”

Page said this phenomenon “should set off alarm bells both domestically and internationally.” In other words, unless the NGO space is completely surrendered to foreign-funded groups whose motives, aspirations and activities could and quite often do harm our country’s interests, then democracy is imperiled in Nigeria. He did not think the wholesale burning of supermarkets, looting of shops, destruction of public property and killing of policemen, all inspired and organised by foreign-funded NGO protests, was harmful to Nigeria. It is innocuous statements that praise what they see as a good action of government that threatens the country.

Page wrote that Nigeria is on a “downward democratic trajectory” by virtue of pro-government NGOs. What is the difference in substance between groups that support some government policies and actions and thousands of “political action committees” in the United States, for example, that champion the goals of particular industries and political factions and are funded by them? Page didn’t say America was on a downward democratic trajectory because of these groups, which exploit a loophole in election finance laws that prevent corporations from donating money to political campaigns.

Page wrote that “Nigeria has recently experienced democratic backsliding that threatens its long-term stability and prosperity.” Which democratic backsliding has Nigeria experienced compared to the United States, where President Donald Trump and his supporters actively worked to subvert the results of an election, up to and including storming the Capitol in order to prevent certification of the result? He said “the rise of pro-government NGOs is both a cause and a consequence of this backsliding and must be addressed as part of any effort to arrest and reverse it.” He should first of all go and end political action groups in USA before coming here to truncate some NGOs.

In his long paper, Page described some NGOs as “legitimate” and implied that so-called pro-government NGOs are illegitimate. Is it abusing the government of the day, which was popularly elected, that makes an NGO legitimate? Or is it serving the interests of foreign powers who insist that every society in the world must reflect their Western outlook and share their social and other values?

Page wrote that “Nigeria’s pro-government NGOs are all opaquely funded, likely through off-budget payments or contracts for consulting services.” Fair enough. Between being funded from Nigerian public coffers, however opaquely, and being funded by the CIA, MI 6, their front foundations and “donor agencies” as well as foreign business corporations with vested interests in raping our national economy, which one is more dangerous to Nigeria?

Two decades ago, the late frontline activist Gani Fawehinmi warned his colleagues in the Nigerian civil society community to wean themselves off foreign funding of their activities. Gani said a genuine civil society activist should practice his profession and trade alongside activism, so that he can finance it himself and will exercise independent judgement. Here is this foreign agent Matthew Page saying different, that foreign-funded NGOs are the “legitimate” ones while locally grown ones are illiberal and illegitimate. Turn the page, Matthew Page. Gani’s advice was much more worthwhile (than) your own.

Olajuwon, PhD, is a media/public affairs analyst based in Abuja.

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