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‘Nigerian civil society groups must partner global peers for lasting impact’

At the centre of the global civil society community is a Nigerian, OLASUBOMI IGINLA AINA, who has just won a worldwide election to become a Director of the Global NGO Executive Committee (GNEC) which is the representative organ for all NGOs associated with the United Nations Department for Global Communication (UNDGC). In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she discusses plans to use her advocacy work for the empowerment of civil societies across the globe.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and some of your past achievements?

I am a Nigerian who is highly passionate about Nigeria, even though I now do most of the work I do from the UK. I began my social work right here in Nigeria as a young adult before I proceeded abroad. My desire has always been to do the much I can for the youths and the disadvantaged people around me, and being a young person then, I quickly connected with young people. Hence, the crux of the majority of my programmes now.

I founded Lightup Foundation while I was acting as the Students’ Union President of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (O.A.U) in 2000. I had a strong passion for youth development, so I decided to contribute my own quota towards the fight against child abuse and the welfare of the less-privileged people in the society.

I am quite creative and I try to engage this positive trait in me to resolve most of the challenges I come across. In 2015, I received an inspiration while on a course at the University of Oxford. This inspiration has since been used to resolve several issues relating to children and young people. The project is tagged Bag of Hope (BOH), and it has already broken a world record, found its place in the Guinness World Record and made an impact in the lives of several thousands of lives across the world. The BOH has found expression in many countries across the world and I am currently touring the BOH with a UN Ambassador.

What has been the motivation for you?

I will say my motivation has always been to help mid-wife a better and brighter tomorrow for those who thought hope was far from them. As I continue in the mission, I also saw the need to have many more people do what I do so that the impact can be widespread. This has led me to raising many more visionaries and volunteers to do social and humanitarian works. I have thus seen the need for us to be properly organised in order to bring efficiency into the things that we do. I have begun that with LightUp Foundation, and we are doing quite a lot to brush up other NGOS on having structures and accountability systems.

I took a Masters degree in Law (LLM) in order to understand the legal framework within which NGOs operate and ensure that our enterprises are conducted in accordance with the laws and regulations of the countries where we operate. I am currently pursuing a PhD in the topic: “Africa Moving from Aid to Trade: United Nations and How the Body has Assisted African Youth Entrepreneurial Development to Achieve the SDG Goals 8 and 9. What More Can Be Done with Nigeria as a Case Study.”

This topic is focused on how the UN can achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals. I believe my research knowledge will definitely be used to boost the global work of the Executive Committee as well as the youths of not only Nigeria but the continent of Africa.

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Why did you contest for the membership of the Global NGO Executive Committee?

I sought a higher office with the intent of doing on a larger scale the things I have been doing for close to thirty years. I believe in working with the GNEC in a star-studded team of fellow visionaries. I hope that we should be able to push the frontiers of development agenda across the world in meeting up with the expectations of the electorate. God help me, my strong organisational skills, experience and creative capacities will no doubt be a good resource for the work of the GNEC. This will also be of immense benefit to organisations across the globe. I am happy to share my knowledge and expertise, to the benefit and empowerment of civil societies across the globe. I also hope to bring to the table ground-breaking ideas and solutions to help the Executive team.

What plans do you have in your early days in office?

The first few months are critical for the work we have to do. Firstly, we need to understand what the current status of our world is in terms of civil society work especially with the impact of COVID 19. This sets the tune for our programme direction. Secondly, I will work hand-in-hand with the officers and other directors of GNEC to actualise the visions and goals of the Executive Committee for this dispensation.

Without losing sight of my primary assignments in my personal capacity, we will push the Bag of Hope initiative a little further. We have toured 7 out of 30 countries but we will do more in the next few months of my assumption of office. I am also consciously looking forward to working with UNDGC organisations on the global BOH tour. I see more things happening soon.

What is your assessment of the Impact of the NGO community in Nigeria and what can be done differently?

Everywhere around the world, civil society has been the foundation for social welfare and development. Nigeria as the foremost country in sub-Saharan Africa has also developed structurally with many NGOs working with the government to promote good governance, advocacy work, social welfare, rights protection and a couple of others. In spite of all that we have achieved, it does appear we are still scratching the surface compared to what we can evidently see being done in other climes.

In addition, one of the things we must do is to leverage on numbers by encouraging more of us to come on board. The second and a very important thing to do is to join forces with other civil society organisations to make a lasting impact globally. Perhaps the third will be for us to encourage ourselves and others, lift each other up and complement each other’s work instead of engaging in unnecessary competitions which are not in any way healthy for our overall development. I believe the potential is huge for us as a nation.

What do you intend to do for the benefit of Nigeria in your capacity as a Nigerian and a member of the Global NGO Executive Committee?

I was elected as a member of the Global NGO Executive Committee to represent global interests. However, because I am passionate about Nigeria, I would be glad to contribute my quota towards the development of Nigeria in any way that I can, beginning with the empowerment of the third sector.

The Nigerian Civil Society Organisations (CSO) must be credited for their conscientious efforts in working with the government towards the welfare, security and development of Nigeria. However, there is still room for improvement. There is a need to come together so we can achieve exceedingly greater achievements, as the saying goes: if we want to go fast then we go alone but if we must go far we have to go together. We truly need to work more as a team.

I am committed to the empowerment of the Nigerian civil society. I hope to work with them to get them more involved with nation-building assignments as well as supporting them to build formidable networks that will bring more global relevance through the work of the United Nations. I hope to team up with CSOs to encourage the promotion of the SDG goals.

I will basically work with NGOs in Nigeria to organise trainings and seminars that would generally empower beneficiaries, especially in areas pertaining to youth development, child abuse, and the empowerment of less-privileged members of the society.

I am of the opinion that civil society organisations ought to be properly represented at sittings of state legislatures, the National Assembly and Senate meetings in order to help maximise civil society involvement in a democratic system as well as solidify and validate the legislative process even more. Such high level involvements will ensure that decision making is truly representative of the interests of the people. Therefore, I intend to work hand-in-hand with the relevant authorities to see this actualised.

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