Guest blog by Felix Obanubi from SAVI Nigeria.
The fundamental crisis of social justice is rooted in leadership, management and persistent self-centeredness. When the interests of some groups and cliques benefits from certain leaders and are served instead of those of a whole community or society, lust prevails over granting people the love and care they deserve. Social justice is at stake.
But what is social justice? According to Augustus Kakanowski and Marijus Narusevich, “social justice is a society in which justice is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law”. It is generally both the promoter and the outcome of a world in which individuals and groups receive fair treatment and an impartial share and equal distribution of the benefits and goods within a society. In conditions of social justice, people are “not to be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership”.
Civil society can help reaching social justice through advocacy, by demonstrating how and why the resources and other endowments of any community/society under unselfish leadership should strive for the good of its people and not its own gains.
In fact civil society can and should advocate for good leadership – one that puts the interest of the community/society as a whole before those of any specific group and aims at transparency, inclusiveness, accountability and responsiveness. Civil society needs to engender a leader with strong political will, a sharp vision and a clear goal; one that can confront the challenges of sustainable development and fight for social justice.
CSOs are a key element to put both the government and their policies in check, assist in achieving some of those objectives and making sure social justice comes to action and not words alone.
Unending political, religious, economic, social, educational, and electoral problems such as ineffective governance, corruption or poor service delivery have bedeviled Nigeria over the past few years. But such societal ills can be abated with an organized and active civil society.
CSOs already existed in pre-colonial traditional states in Nigeria as associational forms that enabled participation, communication, information flow and influence between the citizens and the state, as well as a mean of social economic assistance. CSOs emerged as a platform to mobilize mass protests and strikes to resist state abuses, excesses, mix-governance and structural adjustment conditionality. Civil society became a system of dynamic safety nets, providing welfare and survival options to the poor, vulnerable, excluded, marginalized, disadvantaged and weak.
Currently, civil society is actively involved in reaching social justice with very different initiatives. For example, holding credible, free and fair elections is no longer the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) solely; the tide has shifted to include CSOs, which have become an essential tool to promote voter’s education and participation and monitoring of election processes.
In educating the voters, CSOs assist in ensuring that all eligible citizens in the country are aware of the importance and process of voting registration and of actually exercising their right on Election Day, especially in rural areas where illiteracy rates are higher and citizens may need further support.
Gender mainstreaming is also gradually becoming mandatory in all government and private sector policies in Nigeria. CSOs continuously advocate and collaborate with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation to ensure that women are given equal opportunities to contribute in the national development process by actively participating and championing policy changes and practices. Today, there is a full-fledged Federal Ministry of Social Development, Youth and Sports in Nigeria which was first developed in 1977.
Thus civil society initiatives and organisations have successfully promoted and catalyzed sustainable development and social justice by operating at various levels -local, national and global- and effectively advocated and lobbied for policy changes and an improvement in service delivery systems. State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI) is one of the State Level Programmes funded by DFID Nigeria to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public resource usage in selected states in Nigeria. SAVI’s Civil Society advocacy partnerships have proven to be an effective and flexible vehicle for enabling civil society actors to find collective voice and common interests.
But despite the highlighted efforts, certain challenges limit effectiveness: a disconnection from rural organizations, lack of unity, inadequate funding, government patronage, lack of internal democracy, amongst others.
We must bear in mind, that achieving social justice requires more than an official recognition of the poor’s needs. It has to include civil society and strengthen an accountable people’s movement that is able to renegotiate the relationship between society and the state.
Felix Obanubi is State Team Leader at State Acoountability & Voice Initiative (SAVI) Nigeria.
Image credit: SAVI Nigeria.