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 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.
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 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.