Making fortune out of other peoples’ misfortune

(By Adewale Kupoluyi)

Proliferation of the NGOs in our country may still not be divorced from the prevailing economic climate that has made employment a big issue as many able-bodied men and women daily roam about the streets looking desperately for what to do to survive. As no jobs are forthcoming, they would ordinarily want to try their hands on anything and many things at the same time, due to restiveness and a bid to survive. Of course, one of such options could be experimenting on floating an NGO with like minds.

THE upsurge in criminal activities in the country may also be attributed to the not-so-publicised but the significant role of entities like unregistered and illegal non-governmental organisations (NGOs) littering every nooks and crannies of the nation. No doubt, these illegal NGOs seem to be making fast incursions into the socio-economic life of the nation because of the failure of the appropriate authorities to put a tab on their activities.

  The proliferation of NGOs has been linked to the end of the Cold War of the 1990s and the attempt to expand both the liberal democratic approach and a neo-liberal economic order to governance. NGOs are then seen as the key engines in the drive towards positive change. In Nigeria, the increase in the activities of NGOs actually began in the late 1980s during the military era that promoted the policy on the World Bank/International Monetary Fund-aided Structural Adjustment Programmes while donor support for NGOs was connected to a wider interest and faith-based civil societies as crucial institutional mechanism toward democratisation and development.

  Proliferation of the NGOs in our country may still not be divorced from the prevailing economic climate that has made employment a big issue as many able-bodied men and women daily roam about the streets looking desperately for what to do to survive. As no jobs are forthcoming, they would ordinarily want to try their hands on anything and many things at the same time, due to restiveness and a bid to survive. Of course, one of such options could be experimenting on floating an NGO with like minds.

  Manifesting the ugly side of this proliferation, just a few days ago, the Lagos State Police Command arrested six members of a gang that allegedly specialised in using children suffering from various ailments to solicit funds from unsuspecting members of the public, as the operatives rescued a two-year-old girl suffering from cancer of the eyes from them. The kingpin of the gang was said to have abandoned his cart-pushing business for the ‘lucrative, alms-begging business’. As he had allegedly confessed: “I was making small amount of money from cart-pushing until I met my master, who told me that we could make a lot of money by using children suffering from ailments such as cancer and epilepsy, to solicit for alms from members of the public … We don’t use blind kids because people don’t respond to blind persons. We go to remote villages to search for children with serious diseases that can move people”.

   On their modus operandi, he disclosed that “we convince the parents that we were working for a non-governmental organisation, which cares for the sick and the girl’s father allowed the child and mother to go with us. We lodged in hotels. We made so much money before people could start suspecting us”. What it means is that those engaging in this ‘trade’ are well-organised in that they could have the structure, tactics, offices, operational tools and ‘staff’ that go about luring vulnerable members of the public into their illegal activities. They even go a step further by convincing the parents of these victim-children by making fake promises and pledge to give them medical aid. But at the end, what happens? They merely bring the children to the cities, use them to beg for money on the streets, enrich themselves and dump them without rendering the promised and so-called medical assistance.

   No doubt, this is really a big time business. Hear this: “We were making an average of N30,000 everyday and we were paying the money into our director’s account. There is a lot of money in the business because we were paying N6,000 daily as hotel accommodation and we were giving the child’s mother N1,000 everyday for feeding. Our director also bought a motorcycle for our victim’s father and sends him monthly stipend”, the gang leader had confessed.

   What should be the utmost concern of everybody is the stark reality that not only is the future of these innocent children being mortgaged by these mischievous people; it is saddening that their parents and guardians also get enmeshed in the criminality even without knowing. For instance, an indigent woman was said to have been raped by members of an officially non-existing NGO, which promised to help treat her two-and-half year-old daughter of cancer. The woman said members of the fake NGO approached her and assured her that they could raise money with which to carry out a surgery on her baby in Lagos. Out of excitement, the poor woman was said to have followed them with the consent of her husband – supposedly without knowing the real motive behind the Greek gift. However, the true intention of the men became clearer as they reportedly started soliciting alms on the streets with the child while they were going about with the gullible woman.

   “They would ask me to stand on the road with my child. People were usually moved with pity on seeing my baby with a swollen face. On several occasions, I have asked them to give me the money realised in order to carry out surgical operation on my baby – who has eye and mouth cancer – but they kept assuring me that they would do that at the right time”, she lamented. In the course of the illicit business, the woman claimed that one of the men forcefully had carnal knowledge of her and in the process got pregnant. Prior to that time, she had said several attempts to convince her husband to allow her go back home failed as her husband always encouraged her to stay on but unknown to her, members of the syndicate had bought her husband a motorbike and remitted an average of N15,000 into his account every month with the blood money! Perhaps, this couple and several others in similar circumstances could have been saved from being defrauded if the husband and wife had been open to each other in their dealings. Most problems plaguing the society are borne out of the inability of the family, a social institution, to be alive to its sacred responsibility in this turbulent world.

   As a way out, the police and other law enforcement agencies should scrutinise the activities of the NGOs by paying routine and surprise visits to their offices and hideouts. Those found guilty should be prosecuted alongside their backers. That is why the latest effort of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission – to begin the prosecution of government officials involved in running unregistered NGOs – is commendable. However, the fight should not be left to the ICPC alone.  The Corporate Affairs Commission should come in and be more thorough in the process of registering new NGOs by ensuring that interested registrants with doubtful objectives are denied registration while those that had already scaled the hurdle are periodically monitored, as required of the Commission by virtue of Section 7 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990.

Finally, while many NGOs in Nigeria are really credible and doing great in their chosen areas of specialisation, it should nonetheless be placed on record that the continued operations of these illegal NGOs will certainly discourage genuine donors from rendering needed assistance to the credible ones. Not only that, they pose a big threat to national security, give negative image to the country and constitute social nuisance to the people. They should, therefore, be curbed without further delay.

• Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

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