By NNNGO, member of Forus in Nigeria.

When a civil society organisation is legitimate, transparent and accountable to stakeholders, it boosts the credibility of the organisation and sets it on the right part of development. Also, it makes it easy for effective engagements with donors, government and the general public, as most stakeholders want to engage with only credible organisations.

It aids CSOs compliance with stipulated guidelines and changes the narrative about the public perception of CSOs activities and the use of funds. Because the public can easily ascertain where the money is coming from and when and how it is spent.

Transparency and accountability within CSOs minimize the risk of money laundering, fraud, theft and abuse of resources through proper financial management practices such as regular audits, two signatures to account; constituent/ stakeholder feedbacks; among others. The 8 Istanbul principle of development effectiveness enables CSOs to check their effectiveness and accountability while ensuring CSOs act in line with global best practices.

It enables CSOs put in place internal self-regulatory mechanisms/standards that serve as a check to their various activities, this is reflected in their governance strategy and structure, human resource and management, project management, monitoring, evaluation and reporting and their financial management and sustainability. This sets the pace for proper organizational structure and sustainability.

It facilitates effective service delivery and reporting by fostering responsiveness to the needs of the communities (beneficiaries), the people they work with and other stakeholders engaged in development. Hence, proper accountability and transparency measures facilitate increase donor and citizen support for CSOs.

CSOs are essential in the democratic life of a country and have played a critical role in promoting transparency and accountability within the government and the general society. But they can only hold the government accountable when they are transparent and accountable.

When CSOs are legitimate, transparent and accountable, it builds trust, transforms the sector and enables actors to effectively engage the government on development and strengthening enabling environment for civil society and the public at large.

As observed, most (small and emerging) civil society organisations are not aware of the laws governing the sector and what it takes to effectively run a non-profit. A Non-profit operational manual has been developed by the Network to assist Nigerian non-profits to strengthen their operational and technical capacity in delivering their vision and mission. The manual aims to help non-profits adopt best organisation practices, clarify requirements, regulations and compliance issues relating to managing a non-profit. It was designed as both a capacity-building tool and reference material for successfully running a non-profit organisation and as a guide for understanding and complying with regulatory frameworks guiding the operation of non-profits in Nigeria. 

In Nigeria, the sector at this time is faced with the promulgation of legislation/bills to regulate the activities of civil society by the government. The reasons why these laws keep springing up is because the government feels some CSOs operating are not legitimate, transparent and accountable enough especially with the use of funds. There have been speculations that some non-profits are used as conduits for money laundering and terrorism financing (especially after the financial Action Task Force Recommendation 8 on non-profits). However, proper legitimacy, transparency and accountability by CSOs can change this narrative.

As part of the Nigeria Network of NGOs core strategic areas on civic space strengthening, its activities at this time is centred on fostering self-regulation amongst civil society organisations in Nigeria to improve legitimacy, accountability and transparency based on existing laws. CSOs need to be visibly engaged in shaping the narrative on non-profit regulation, but it can only be achieved if their organization is legal, transparent and accountable.