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Spaces for Change: From informal networks and collaboration to the Action Group for Free Civic Space in Nigeria

Report Date | October 2019
Type | Coalition response
Region | Africa
Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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In 2018, Spaces for Change (S4C) – a Nigerian civil society organisation (CSO) working to infuse human rights into social and economic processes – initiated the idea of a learning-and-sharing hub on closing civic space.

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What began as an informal network designed to deepen cooperation and solidarity eventually transformed into the Action Group on Free Civic Spaces in Nigeria, a coalition of 61 organisations working to co-create a unified sector position and voice to defend civic space against security-induced restrictions. Members work on diverse thematic issues, however they are all committed to ensuring that government regulations (framed around national security) do not shrink civic space.

National security questions are sensitive, and so as groups started to convene and collaborate around this, it took time to build trust and overcome the sensitivities in the room.

Balancing inclusion with capacity and skill set
It is important to try and ensure that group actions are inclusive, so that certain sector voices are not left out. However, when dealing with something like a Mutual Evaluation process, high level evidence based analysis is required, and so inclusion must be balanced with the capacity and skill set needed for that level of discussion.

Getting buy-in
Getting buy-in can be challenging. People can be suspicious when approached to join a coalition. It’s vital to find the central themes that connect constituencies and connect to the spirit of different organisations’ missions.

Common ownership
Nigerian civil society organisations have developed coalitions in the past, but they have proved difficult to sustain. In this instance, the Action Group has worked hard to ensure there is a sense of ‘Common Ownership’. Rather than the coalition being led by one group, it belongs to everyone, which has created a sense of buy-in that ensures the work is relevant and sustainable.

Non-financial support
Non-financial support can be just as helpful as funding. Many groups have contributed meeting spaces, covered their own transport costs, or shared resources in place of contributing funds, and this has helped to keep conversations going and to strengthen the coalition.

  • When operating as an informal network of like-minded organisations, Nigerian CSOs defeated two successive, restrictive bills. Whilst some CSOs have stronger ties with decision-makers, others have a stronger presence on social media, and others have the capacity to engage harder-to-reach groups and communities. Working together, inhabiting these different roles according to their different capacities and expertise, groups have been able to defend and reclaim civic space.
  • As a formalised coalition, the group is engaging with international institutions to ensure that the non-profit sector in Nigeria is properly represented during evaluations and assessments of the country’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism measures. They have managed to develop relationships with global coalitions, and gain access to important meetings with regulators.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | Coalition response     Region | Africa     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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