October 2, 2022

That President Bio is surrounded by civil society organisations (CSO’s) is not the point of this short discourse, but rather is he aware that the majority of them can be termed as 419 CSO’s based on the reason for their closeness to power?

419 is the criminal code for fraud in Nigeria.

At present there are several CSO representatives in the president’s delegation to the United Nations. As a point of clarification, it is not that CSO’s are not to deal with governments; their mandates necessitate an active, healthy, ethical, vibrant and continuous relationship with governments. However, we expect for such a relationship to be purely academic, as anything else would result to conflict of interest hence unethical.

Certainly owing to lack of a steady stream of funding from international partners (which can be mostly blamed on poorly written and qualified funding proposals), local CSO’s have been having an unholy relationship with the governments of the day, who they are accused of courting, even dancing to their tunes all in the hope and interest of garnering funding for their activism against government’s plans and actions that are against the group or groups such CSO’s are advocating on behalf of.

It must be recalled that during the previous government of Sierra Leone headed by President Ernest Bai Koroma (EBK), civil society organisations swore 100 per cent allegiance to then Head of State.

Interestingly, apart from collecting donor money from international organisations to speak up and act on behalf of vulnerable people and groups, many heads of such CSO’s received huge sums of money, cars, land, positions in the Civil Service and other perks and favours from EBK’s regime.

In practice, not every government, despite their intentions and promises, can cater to the needs and expectations of all and sundry. For wasteful and aid dependent societies such as Sierra Leone, civil society organisations are there to not only remind government of their obligations to such groups but of their obligations to society in general. They are there to speak on behalf of such groups including but not limited to the homeless, disabled, mentally ill among others. In theory, CSO’s alongside the independent media act as the Fourth Estate in the governance of a nation after the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

Because they check the balances of the three other arms of government, CSO’s, like media houses, are discouraged against forming too close a tie with governments. To avoid issues or claims of conflict of interest, unfair reporting and the like, CSO’s are advised against getting themselves involved with or attached to any political party.

But far from theory, we see here in Sierra Leone CSO’s that are openly aligned with political parties and their leadership. They can be seen singing, dancing and campaigning for and with political parties and their candidates. In the very recent past they did so during EBK’s tenure; now they form part of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party – SLPP’s international delegations list attending functions with, for and on behalf of government.

This medium will be first in line to tell President Bio to be weary of such CSO heads, as they will do anything for money, going as far as tailoring their reports based on which way the cookie crumbles. Sadly, by openly taking sides in the nation’s politics these CSO heads have gone against their mission and objectives as CSO’s. The same CSO’s that sang and danced with and for EBK are today doing the same with President Bio.

It must be noted here that time without number, regime after regime, heads of CSO’s are routinely offered and accept political jobs for “not embarrassing government” with their reporting on issues the very same government had either been funded or equipped to handle without spending a dime of our taxpayers’ money. It follows that if the price is right these CSO’s will say or do what the highest bidder wishes.

That said, the international donor community should consider themselves as being here advised to reconsider funding local CSO’s as they get a lot from sitting governments in a very unholy union for which their advocacies can be regarded as hustling; and as being warned against trusting any report from CSO’s that paints any regime in a positive light as they would only be doing their master’s or payer’s bidding. Such 419 CSO’s are not doing their jobs as per their advocacy and are in open relationship or in bed with the opposition, or in this case, government.

Governments should know; i.e., if they don’t already know, that they are dealing with 419 CSO’s. However, this medium does not expect government to take any action as no news or the favourable reports that CSO’s have been making on governments is in line with the ruling regime’s ambition of being presented in a light in which its actions pale in comparison. Lonta!