John Patrick Ngoyi
Fellow Since 2006
This description of John Patrick Ngoyi's work was prepared when John Patrick Ngoyi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
A priest with a vision for liberation theology and engaged citizenship, John Patrick Ngoyi is improving citizen participation in democratic governance by raising political awareness and encouraging participation in budgeting and monitoring.
The New Idea
John Patrick believes that poverty in Nigeria can be alleviated and democracy sustained if citizens hold public officials accountable to honor their electoral promises, be fiscally responsible, and develop programs and budgets only with the input and regular monitoring of the community. John Patrick and his Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), are thus empowering communities to critically analyze government performance and budgets at all levels. From local Town Hall Meetings to a monthly publication to monitoring and advocacy groups, he provides arenas where citizens can learn how to be politically active and then use their new understanding to hold government accountable. Using basic communication tools and the power of the existing social infrastructure, including microfinance groups and religious communities, John Patrick demonstrates not only an effective method for democracy building but also for behavior change. His method has been easily adopted by larger institutions in Nigeria and beyond as it also spreads among communities organically.
Neither military rule nor democracy has been able to improve the material and social well being of the average Nigerian. In 1999, Nigeria returned to civil rule after over a decade of military rule, bringing hope that the economy and the human rights landscape would improve. However, elections have been fraught with fraud and corruption has persisted, if not escalated. Election promises are not fulfilled and policies and programmes have not benefited the majority of the people. Police and security forces continue to perpetuate human rights abuses, and harassment and extra-judicial killings by law enforcement officers and abysmal prison conditions persist. Ethnic militia have practically overrun certain parts of the country. This situation is seriously threatening the hard won democracy in Nigeria as fears of coups and even war loom. Unfortunately, the Church has remained mostly passive in the fight for social justice, using the separation of church and state as an excuse for inactivity. Instead, churches (and mosques) concentrate on offering alms and charity to the needy rather than questioning the injustices lived by their congregations. This approach makes little use of the unique position of religious institutions in the community, and their national infrastructure for service delivery. The Church and Mosque are some of the only organized institutions in Nigeria which still enjoy some level of credibility and followership. Eighty percent of Nigerians attend either a church or a mosque. The problem has also been compounded by the fact that civil society organizations that had been active in the crusade against military rule have not been so quick to react to the excesses of civilian rule. As a result of this lapse, the civilian government has been able to function almost unchecked. This situation has gradually begun to change as more recently, citizen organizations, especially the Nigerian Labour Union, have become more active in challenging the misrule of the new administration. However, these organizations have not been able to make major headway in improving the state of the nation.
John Patrick works to craft a more aware and empowered Nigerian citizenry, using basic communication tools and access points for shared community activities. John Patrick’s first strategy is the use of Town Hall Meetings as an entry point for commencing his democracy monitoring initiative. These meetings are essentially information sharing and dialogue forums between public servants and the electorate. Public servants present their budgets and plans to the communities, who are then encouraged to contribute and help shape these plans. Subsequent meetings are organized for the public servants and communities to evaluate the progress made on the goals.To compliment the Town Hall Meetings, John Patrick publishes the Democracy Monitor, a monthly newsletter which has over 10,000 subscribers in 18 states. This newsletter publishes federal state and local government budgets, and provides current information on government activities, especially the abuse of public funds. Publications in this newsletter are sometimes the only source of information communities have explaining how their taxes and public funds are spent. Public officials now use this tool as a source for its official budgets. It has also become an effective accountability tool for challenging superfluous and ineffectual government policies and programs. Once the Town Hall Meetings gain participants and momentum, John Patrick organizes citizens into pressure groups that ensure that government budgets and plans are strictly adhered to. An entire department within JDPC is dedicated to running education programs for the pressure groups. Since 1999 JDPC has put together more than 500 such programs. The JDPC also includes a strong democracy monitoring component. It trained 15,200 election observers for the 2003 elections, for example. John Patrick organizes seminars and workshops about the electoral process, politician rights and responsibilities, and policies that directly affect their communities. The pressure groups and the election monitors help take the energy generated by community education and translate it into action; they also provide an avenue for deeper participation for those citizens who want to be more involved. John Patrick also targets youth and rural communities to improve their ability to hold leaders accountable and become active citizens in their own governance. He sets up ‘human rights clubs’ in schools and cooperatives in rural communities. In schools, JDPC staff train children and teachers on civics and governance. To date, 135 teachers have been trained and are educating children on the principles of good governance, their role as active citizens and Nigeria’s electoral process. To ensure that the Town Hall Meetings are held in as many communities as possible, John Patrick collaborates with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Federal Government’s information and awareness raising agency, in organizing and mobilizing public official attendees for JDPC’s Town Hall Meetings. The partnership enhances NOA’s mandate to inform citizens on government activities while bringing increased human resources for the project. On the other hand, the JDPC has been able to raise funds for this initiative, but is understaffed to reach entire communities throughout Nigeria. Together, they have been able to draw on their strengths to make the initiative a success. In this way, they have demonstrated how government and citizen organizations can be good partners in bringing development to communities. John Patrick employs a micro-credit system of the Grameen Bank and infuses a civic education component into this model. To date he has 23,000 women, who vote and participate in their local communities, as direct members in his micro-credit cooperative without a single case of default on loans. He also has an agricultural program involving over 5,000 farmers who analyze the local, regional and national agricultural budgets and are equipped to challenge their leadership when they find questionable budgeting practices.John Patrick has also realized the latent power of religious institutions to integrate citizenship into daily life, through their infrastructure, capacity to deliver services, but most importantly the pure emotional power of religion in the daily lives of Nigerians. John Patrick is refocusing the Church in particular on its role as an arbiter of social justice. This is a subtle but powerful revolution in the delivery of services to the poor that has the potential to become the most effective instrument of liberation for the impoverished in Nigeria. John Patrick encourages powerful religious bodies to serve as more than just charities in improving communities, but to actively educate their followers and advocate for human rights and good governance in Nigeria. The JDPC has quickly become the center of a myriad of advocacy initiatives which build on a more active citizen sector. John Patrick connects organizations around issues and mobilizes them into powerful coalitions. He works to push through the Gender Mainstreaming Bill, which demands that Nigeria adopt the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the Agricultural Policy Bill which seeks favorable policies for farmers and migrant agricultural workers; the Human Rights Education Bill, which pushes for human rights education to be included in the state’s secondary school curriculum; and the Freedom of Information Bill which demands free, public access to government files and documents in order to enable the public to have greater information on government activities. Through these coalitions, citizen organizations in Nigeria are becoming better organized and more unified, and thus better able to pressure and remove corrupt government officials. The JDPC currently operates in 22 states in Nigeria. John Patrick has received inquiries from other citizen organizations in South Africa, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Cameroon for training on democracy monitoring. The Catholic Church in Nigeria has adopted his model as their national good governance program, and other churches such as the Presbyterian, the Anglican Communion, Methodist and Pentecostal have entered into formal dialogue and training with the JDPC. Finally, John Patrick was recently appointed as the Coordinator of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation by his Religious Congregation at the African level, giving him a greater opportunity to spread the idea throughout the continent and beyond.
A Jesuit Priest from the Republic of Congo, John Patrick felt called to the priesthood because of his deep interest in helping the poor and his belief that the Church’s teachings are a powerful tool for social liberation. He has remained faithful to this belief by his activism within and outside of the Church, holding several key positions outside of his executive position in JDPC including as board member of several human rights organizations in Nigeria, member of the National Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, and the African Coordinator for the Justice and Peace with the Missionary Institute of CICM based in Rome.John Patrick has always been a leader in his community and while in school, was the leader of his local boy scouts chapter, served as the director of his school’s Theater and Sports program, and also was involved in various church group activities. He has written several books and publications on human rights, democratic monitoring, the role of the Church in social justice, and education. In 2005, John Patrick was invited to participate in Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals program by the President.