Sunday, July 21, 2013

Between civil advocacy, the government and corporate organizations



Dividends refer to the portion of profit stakeholders (shareholders) get from an enterprise for their stakes (shares) in the business. With continuous evolution, everything, including state – the nation state has acquired the status of enterprise.


So, such things as dividends of democracy have become commonplace. What do people particularly ordinary citizens get for their stakes in the state? That is their dividend from the state enterprise because they hold shares in the state. It is an inalienable right. And where it is not given or partially given or in any way denied, the people put their feet down in demand for what they know is their right.

From the business of state let us progress to the state of business. Citizens are beginning to ask for dividends in ordinary businesses, particularly if the businesses happen reside in the same neighborhood as they. Businesses are citizens and instead of the strongest stifling the weakest, a sense of community or brotherhood must prevail. So from he that has much, it must be taken and given to he that has less. An effort to strike at equilibrium sounds right and logical.

Social responsibility, mostly at corporate level has become an integral part of business. Thriving enterprises are now required to support the environment, host communities, and other stakeholders in the ecosystem. CSR has become central to business. Stakeholders demand it, often in bizarre and forceful manner. This demand has given rise to advocacy groups in several shades.

The burden of CSR has given rise to a peculiar kind of business, otherwise called not for profit evolving in the bid to enforce the rights of the weaker segment of the society and help them obtain from their more successful neighbours.

Several issues come to mind here. What manner of business can survive year on year without profit? What kind of business can make it its business to compel the strongest to take care of the weakest by letting go a part of what it has legally earned? Yet the not for profits, commonly called nongovernmental organisations try to make people believe they exist solely for others.

Curiously, this branch of business would not have come up without the callous posturing of successful businesses that resist giving back to society as CSR is referred to in some quarters. This stance has opened an avenue for musketeers to parade themselves in different shades for the purpose of obtaining from the successful for the less successful. What is of concern is ‘what portion of what is obtained is passed on to the weakest of the society for whom it is meant?’ Yet this astute set of business people maintain, boldly so that they are in business just to help others, often referred to as less privileged.

Often proponents of these rights groups traverse every aspect of business including government. In government circles, they are often referred to as civil society. These pressure groups are making some impact. Observers note that the civil society played a leading role in the struggle for the return of leadership from military to civilian in Nigeria in what is commonly referred to as the third republic in 1999.

What is of concern is that this group of ‘civilised people’ also tends to be feeding fat from what they obtain from the strongest meant for the weakest. Being enlightened in their trade, they mount sophisticated campaigns, bring a feeling of guilt on businesses in the process, compelling them to hand out to them as they demand, because ‘it is for common good.’

Survival is important to all businesses. Be it conventional business or not for profit. It becomes imperative to seek the place of these pressure groups as they appear to quickly play the parasite, ever keen at obtaining from businesses in what is commonly referred to as grants. What is the place of ethics in this segment of business?

Given the skillful operation of advocacy groups, often with international networks, government and businesses can no longer ignore them. With their experience at advocacy, organised not for profit organisations are the preferred candidates for social or community mobilisation. Conscious therefore that they have this endowment, some of them now tend to commercialise it by trading loyalty from the weakest to the strongest, in tandem with the popular adage ‘he who pays the piper and dictates the tune’.

Perhaps, it is imperative to point out that those who hand out grants might be right in considering what they hand out as investment for which they expect yields. The expected yields can only be gotten if they keep an eye on the investment by keeping close alliance with the advocacy groups that seek the grants. Could knowledge that more grants are endangered except those who hand out the grants are satisfied with usage of what was already granted influence what comes out of the mouths of the advocates? This is a tough call.

However, the mere thought of it tends to paint a gloomy picture for the future of citizens’ rights as the resonating effect of the commercialisation of civil advocacy is the weakening of citizens’ voices and the strengthening of an already repressive hold of businesses on the environment and other stakeholders.

Granted that commercialisation of advocacy has the capacity to dilute and distract from a commitment to balance the influence wielded by businesses that are by their very nature collective as against common citizens whose individual voices can easily be drowned, questions must be asked. The grave danger in this trend is that without advocacy, collective stand, at grassroots level could be easily taken away with individual liberty severely curtailed, giving rise to an unchallenged reign by mindless profiteers in business.

To sum up this takes, it should be noted that Nnamdi Azikiwe is credited with the saying that “conscience and history are the best judges of human action.” As civil advocacy tends to go commercial in Nigeria, it is pertinent to point out that the promoters are businessmen, though they be branded not for profit, history and conscience will have the duty of assessing their actions over time.

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