Partners in progress
by Iolanda Jaquemet
The contrast between rich and poor in Nigeria's
cities underlines the need for action.
An unusual pilot project has been helping
National Societies to discover how they can strengthen their
institutional capacity. The Nigerian Red Cross has been one
of the test cases, finding out through an interesting partnership
how to focus on capacity building, resource development, effective
management and sustainable programmes. Ultimately, it is a partnership
that will reduce dependence on external assistance and provide
an enduring framework for the future.
It is April. Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, is slowly recovering
from the first wave of inter-communal violence that claimed
several hundred victims and displaced tens of thousands. The
town still bears the scars of the blind fury that was
unleashed in February: whole districts burned out, roofs torn
off, walls blackened with slogans such as "No more Sharia
law" or "Sharia law forever". The Red Cross
office was spared, however. In this white building standing in
the shade of fruit-laden mango trees, Andrew Dogo, secretary
of the local branch, reflects: "We were all traumatized,
but I am also proud to say there were no tensions within the
Red Cross. And the image of the institution, which had thus
demonstrated its neutrality, impartiality and humanity, has
emerged stronger than ever."
It was also a real-life test of the effectiveness of the
disaster preparedness training programme. For two years, 50
volunteers had been following a course at national level and,
on returning to their home towns, had set up emergency squads.
The result was a surge of effective solidarity: groups of
volunteers from neighbouring Plateau and Katsina states rushed
to their aid, led by secretaries like Andrew Dogo, the
representatives of a new generation. Young but above all
professional, they have been elected by their respective
committees over the last two years, trained, and now occupy
full-time paid positions.
A world with Ofor Nwobodo
It would be impossible to speak of the Nigerian Red Cross without
mentioning Ofor Nwobodo, the man who with unflagging energy has been at its
helm for 14 years. During this time, the National Society has genuinely been
put at the service of its community. At the moment the tripartite project
wound up, Ofor Nwobodo left his office in Lagos for two years to join the
ICRC delegation in Nairobi.
Q: What was the significance of the tripartite project for your National
A: For us it was not a pilot project but a full-blown project! Given the
political situation at the time and the fact that transparency and financial
responsibility are problems in this country, the donors were obviously a bit
wary. At first, it was suggested that the pilot phase be conducted in only
four branches. But how do you select which ones, when there are 37 branches
and our country is so diverse? I therefore fought to include all 37 in the
test run - and I won. Our priority was to invest in people, develop local
resources in order to turn them into springboards for the National Society.
The tripartite project enabled us to update our existing potential, show
what we could do independently of the economic situation, and instil in our
members a sense of belonging.
Q: Have the recent changes in Nigeria had any effects on the National
A: From the outset the donors have made the difference between the
National Society and the military junta. In 1996, when the European Union
imposed an embargo on the country, we were struck by a very serious
meningitis epidemic. The support from other National Societies via the
Federation was significant. It was the same in 1998, following the terrible
oil pipeline disaster [ed. nearly 1,000 people killed and many more
horrifically burned]. Even so, the political situation was a handicap.
Clearly, with the new democratic government there is greater openness to the
outside. And even within the country, the population's support has been
strengthened. By the same token, the public's expectations have grown, and
we are facing many demands that we can't satisfy.
Three regions in crisis
They are the fruit of a real revolution for a National Society in which,
says one close observer, "some of the branch secretaries in the past
were local dignitaries who fulfilled mainly honorary tasks". The source
of this revolution is to be found, to some extent, in Geneva, and goes by
the name of "tripartite project". Christoph Müller, director of
the department of institutional development at the International Federation,
has been following the venture since the beginning. He recalls that the idea
took root among the big partner National Societies around 1996. "At the
time, we were looking for ways to improve long-term development and its
funding, but also, with a test case, to prove the Federation's capacity to
manage a project of this kind over the long term."
In June 1998, the ship was launched. On board for a period of two years
were the Federation, the British, Canadian and Swedish Red Cross but also,
and herein lies the novelty, their governments. The tripartite project was
born, with the specific aim of strengthening the institutional capacity of
beneficiary National Societies to assist the most vulnerable, putting strong
emphasis on good governance. The key element is training, but also direct
institutional support by covering the payment of the salaries of a few
professional staff members.
The beneficiaries of the project were the Red Cross Societies of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Guatemala and Nigeria
- three regions in crisis. They were chosen on the basis of
a number of criteria: the will to change, the absence of any
other significant international support, the presence of a
Federation delegation and... it had to be an area in the throes
of armed conflict or prone to natural disasters. This last
criterion, even Müller admits, made the whole undertaking
quite risky. The project had to be suspended in the DRC when
conflict resumed there, but in Nigeria and Guatemala the results
appear to have been positive.
"Everyone agrees that it has been a success," states
Bob Storey, head of the Federation's office in Lagos. "For
this kind of venture to succeed you need fertile ground, and
this was true of Nigeria." The National Society had already
begun its own transformation, and the tripartite project readily
went along. Today, each of the 36 states of Nigeria, plus
Lagos, has its own professional secretary, and three-quarters
of their salaries was paid by the tripartite project up to
June. The Swedish and British Red Cross have agreed to prolong
their support for a further year, at a lower level, to help
the Nigerian Red Cross towards financial independence.
The Federation itself has learned a lot. "It was a new
experience for us to coordinate from headquarters such a complex
operation involving three regions and three different languages
- but also a fascinating one," says Müller. "It
has even helped us to identify some of our own weak points,
and the Federation's visibility has increased in the eyes
of donors. No doubt we will follow a similar model in the
Iolanda Jaquemet is a freelance journalist based in Geneva.
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