The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Promoting Social Inclusion among Rural Dwellers in Nigeria

Tope Akinyetun1, Hungevu Paul Erubami2, Adewale Jamiu Salau3, Tope Oke Bakare4, Aihonsu Samuel Ahoton5

Abstract: What are civil society organizations? What are their functions? Are they relevant? How are they perceived? Do they promote social inclusion? Are they known by rural dwellers? These germane questions led to this study. The general objective of the study is to examine the perception of rural dwellers on the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in promoting social inclusion in Nigeria, using rural areas of Lagos and Ogun states as a case study. The study adopts a survey research design and utilized a structured questionnaire as the research instrument. Eight hundred questionnaire was administered to rural dwellers selected from twenty towns; twenty districts; and forty streets of Badagry and Ipokia Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Lagos and Ogun states respectively, using a multistage and random sampling technique. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and chi-square inferential stati.stics. Findings show that although rural dwellers of Lagos and Ogun states know of the existence of CSOs, they are not properly informed of their functions. The result also yields evidence that rural dwellers are not convinced of the relevance of CSOs and their role in social inclusion. The study, therefore, recommends that CSOs should intensify their efforts of social inclusion in rural areas and engage more rural dwellers of Nigeria in their programmes, particularly in the rural areas of Lagos and Ogun states. This, the study argues, is necessary for engendering sustainable development.

Keywords: Civil society; exclusion; rural dwellers; social inclusion


This paper aims at examining the perception of rural dwellers on the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in promoting social inclusion in Nigeria, using rural areas of Lagos and Ogun states as a case study. Meanwhile, in specific terms, it seeks to assess the knowledge of rural dwellers of Lagos and Ogun states of CSOs; to measure the perception of rural dwellers of Lagos and Ogun states on the functions of CSOs; to evaluate the perception of rural dwellers of Lagos and Ogun states on the relevance of CSOs to social inclusion.

This paper adopts a quantitative approach and briefly draws on secondary sources to establish a cursory review of literature, while the latter part dwells extensively on the primary source of data, its analysis, and interpretation. The motivation for this study is necessitated by the fact that most researches conducted on CSOs (and social inclusion) in Nigeria do not consider rural people as a unit of analysis and discussion.

According to Basaninyenzi (2020), in all societies, certain groups are faced with the challenge of participating fully in economic, political, and social life. These groups are often excluded either based on their beliefs, attitudes, gender, age, or occupation. They may also be vulnerable to exclusion as a result of their identity (ethnic, cultural, religious), race, disability, or location. For whatever reason they are excluded, they end up being deprived of their dignity and chances at a better life. And when left unaddressed, exclusion can have a substantial economic, social, and political cost. It is on this premise that the United Nations – as contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – has committed to ‘leaving no one behind’ to help countries promote inclusive growth.

Societies must prevent social tensions among their members by engaging associations within the society, to collectively draw on their values and give opportunities for participation and a voice to all groups in the society. This can be achieved by collaborating with civil society organizations. The growing significance of civil society organizations toward influencing and driving policy change in the past decade is non-negligible. In Nigeria (as in other societies), community-based organizations (CBOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), professional associations, trade unions, and other civil society organizations (CSOs) or groups have been integral in designing and implementing key development strategies, especially poverty reduction (AfDB 2011).

According to Essien (2020:939), CSOs are relevant in “the designing of strategies for development, as service providers through community-based organizations and national NGOs, and as watchdogs to ensure governments fulfil commitments.” To be sure, CSOs can be used to promote social inclusion.

Social inclusion is instrumental to the World Bank’s commitment to ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Social inclusion is “the process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society, and the process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged based on their identity to take part in society.” (Basaninyenzi, 2020:1). According to Korzensky, Vicari & Brady (2019), evidence suggests that progress in meeting the goals and targets of Agenda 2030 is stunted among disadvantaged and marginalized groups. It is as a result of this that social inclusion seeks to displace social exclusion, deprivation, marginalization, and poverty.

Meanwhile, poverty is highly associated with rural areas. An estimated 79 per cent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for subsistence (World Bank 2018). This scenario – undoubtedly – calls for urgent attention. Efforts must be made to tackle prevalent poverty among rural people and move them into the larger society, to take advantage of environmental sustainability and socioeconomic gains (Korzensky, Vicari & Brady, 2019). After all, family farmers, forest dwellers, pastoralists, rural food producers, and other small-scale food producers are key agents of change and the foundation of food security; producing over 80 per cent of the world’s food. Yet, these rural people are still characterized by limited access to productive assets, restricted education and training opportunities, lack of access to support networks, and social isolation (FAO, 2017).

In this regard, social inclusion and mobilization are essential in helping rural people address their paradoxical reality. Herein is the role of civil society organizations germane as productive agents of change and inclusion, particularly in rural areas. This is quite important, considering the submission of Omede & Bakare (2014:20) who claim that CSO’s activities are majorly nationalistic in outlook and operation; they are mostly restricted to the federal government level. They lack national spread. “Most of these organizations are concentrated in Lagos and a few other state capitals in the country. This makes it difficult for a majority of the Nigerian population, which live in rural areas to appreciate the role they play, imbibe their doctrines and through the process, develop political consciousness and confidence to resist inducement from a politician”.

Literature Review

In conceptualizing civil society, it is important to understand the theoretical frameworks guiding the concept. Tabbush (2005) identifies two frameworks: the neo-liberal pluralistic paradigm and the neo-Gramscian paradigm. Drawing on the work of other theorists such as Fukuyama, Tabbush argues that the neo-liberal pluralistic paradigm holds that states are responsible for making political institutions transparent and efficient. This paradigm highlights certain aspects of civil society: “For example: (i) association is a way to protect the interest of minorities; (ii) there is a linkage between flourishing civil society and democratic practices; and (iii) civil society acts as a counterbalance to state involvement in every aspect of social life” (Tabbush 2005, p. 18). Meanwhile, the neo-Gramscian paradigm argues that there is a distinction between the states and civil society. Instead, civil society links the state and the market (Tabbush, 2005). Tabbush (2005, p. 18) submits that “civil society is seen as not just a place for creating social cohesion, but also as an arena where the struggle for hegemony is contested, and where these organizations are engaged in setting up and negotiating the rules of a given social order.” This paradigm also recognizes that “certain sections of civil society can reproduce oppression and undermine democracy” (Tabbush, 2005, p. 38). As Kocze (2012, p. 10) would have us believe, “the liberal pluralistic paradigm sees civil society as a force against the non-democratic enemies of the democracies” while the neo-Gramscian conceptualization adopts a simpler approach by “highlighting the importance of the grassroots mobilization in contrast with the elitist participation in civic organizations.” For Kocze, the face of civil society is changing. Therefore, theorizing civil society should reflect emerging global social, economic, and political crises, such as inequality, unemployment, violence, and decreasing social services.

According to Kocze (2012), civil society finds expression in several formal and informal practices, actions, self-organized, non-profit and non-governmental associations, social movements, and networks transcending national borders. In the words of Anheier, Glasius & Kaldor (2011, p. 17), “global civil society is the sphere of ideas, values, institutions, organizations, networks, and individuals located between family, the state, and the market and operating beyond the confines of national societies, polities, and economies.” The Civil Society Index (CSI) (n.d) define civil society as “the arena, outside the family, government, and market where people voluntary associate to advance common interests.” Observably, both definitions point out that civil society is a public space where various value systems and interests interact, hence strengthen the social inclusion of the individuals or groups.

Civil society describes the domain for collective action around mutual interests, values, and purposes, which is distinct from government, commercial, or for-profit actors. Civil society includes community groups, professional associations, social movements, charities, trade unions, development NGOs, faith-based organizations, women's organizations, coalitions, and advocacy groups. Here, we have been alerted to the misconception that surrounds civil society. It is not homogeneous and the boundaries between civil society and government or civil society and commercial actors can be blurred (WHO, 2007). Examples of CSOs in Nigeria are: Academic Staff Union of Universities; Nigerian Labour Congress; Trade Union Congress; Nigerian Medical Association; Nigerian Bar Association; Entrepreneurial Development Initiative; Save the Earth Nigeria; Citizens’ Forum for constitutional reform; National Council of Women Societies; African Women Agribusiness Network; Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria; Center for Constitutional Gov. & Dev; Women Development Project Center; Community Action for Popular Participation; African Center for Democratic Governance; and Nigeria Union of Teachers (Uchendu, 2000)

Essien (2020) calls our attention to two key issues noticeable from the creation of civil society in Africa. One, social exclusion is prevalent while sustainable development in Africa is obscure. This remains so, despite the role of civil society organizations in promoting participation, supporting inclusive democratic governance, advocating for transparency and accountability. Two, extreme poverty, deprivation, inefficiency, inequality and marginalization, continually record an increase, even in the face of civil society organizations. Arguing further, Essien (2020), submits that the management and distribution of services in Nigerian society is largely inefficient and exclusionary, leading to a myriad of social problems. This has placed a strain on the discourse of inclusive society and sustainable development

According to World Bank (2007:4), social inclusion is a “process which ensures that those at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living and well-being that is considered normal in the society in which they live.” As a core aspiration of the 2030 Agenda, “social inclusion a process which ensures that those at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living that is considered normal in the society in which they live. It ensures that they have greater participation in decision making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights” (European Commission, 2004:10). As United Nations (2016:20) opines, “social inclusion is the process of improving the terms of participation in society for people who are disadvantaged based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or another status, through enhanced opportunities, access to resources, voice and respect for rights.” Thus, social inclusion is both a means and an end. Promoting social inclusion means removing the barriers of social exclusion which hinders people’s participation in society. It requires making a deliberate effort to integrate all persons and embrace equality.

Social inclusion is understood as a process by which efforts are made to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of background, so that all can achieve their full potential in life. It is a multi-dimensional process aimed at creating conditions that enable full and active participation of every member of the society in all aspects of life, including civic, social, economic, and political activities, as well as participation in decision-making processes (Essien, 2020). Social inclusion seeks to reintegrate people who have been hitherto excluded based on their identity, age, sex, orientation, economic status, or location, into society. A good example of such people is those in rural areas.

Rural areas generally experience a structural decline in employment and other traditional land-based industries. They are more dependent on traditional institutions such as the family and church; than on labour markets and the welfare state. This pace of change and its attendant dependency makes the ability of rural dwellers to survive and prosper in this world, more precarious. These risks are often not evenly distributed through society but inversely create a social class (Shucksmith, 2004). The issues facing people in rural areas, although similar to those in urban areas, are more entrenched. This includes a lack of access to quality education and training, unemployment, poor housing, and welfare. They are often disadvantaged and unable to access many of the facilities and structures open to urban dwellers. Rural dwellers may be additionally excluded from transport and leisure (Jentsch & Shucksmith, 2003). Faced with these restricted life chances, these people turn to individual action in solving their collective problems and hold themselves responsible for their inevitable failure. As a result, social exclusion becomes communally individualized (Shucksmith, 2004).

On the whole, the literature suggests that CSOs have been instrumental in promoting social inclusion in Nigeria in the past decades. According to Olukoshi (1997), CSOs helped entrench democracy and governance through voter education, conflict mitigation, constituency outreach, election observation, public interest litigation, electoral reform advocacy, research, and documentation. CSOs checked government excesses and promoted inclusive growth. This view is substantiated by Ojo (2011), who avers that CSOs were instrumental to the restoration of civil rule in Nigeria and have since then been safeguarding against threats to democracy. CSOs also give expression to the marginalized and excluded. CSOs often enhance the participation of communities in the provision of services and policy decision-making (WHO, 2007). CSOs advocate for a corrupt-free society, promote democratic norms and governance, as well as defend people’s interests (Gberevbie, 2013)

Christopher (2020) notes that during the wave of the coronavirus pandemic, CSOs were at the frontline of transparency and accountability advocacy in Nigeria by advocating for transparency in the collection and disbursement of funds meant to mitigate the effect of the pandemic. More so, CSOs engaged community members and developed a response that captures vulnerable communities. This contributed immensely to confirming social order. Besides, a lot of CSOs involved in humanitarian work by reaching beneficiaries in different communities using an organized model of distribution. They were also able to reach many hard-to-reach areas and populations.

Essien (2014) observes that to create an inclusive society, CSOs must pay close attention to critical factors, without which social inclusion is impossible. This includes the rule of law and human rights; effective leadership; cultural diversity; education; fairness in distributing wealth and resources; adequate security; strong presence; availability and access to public infrastructure and facilities; and access to information.

Observably, CSOs in Nigeria have been faced with several challenges that impede their effectiveness in promoting social inclusion. According to Omede & Bakare (2014), the limitations faced by CSOs are lack of unity, government patronage, lack of internal democracy, inadequate funding, corrupt and personal enrichment attitude, lack of state support and partnership, and lack of skills for CSOs. Dakyyen & Dang (2014) argue that many CSOs in Nigeria lack clear-cut objectives, experience, and organizational discipline, as many were formed without proper coordination. They also posit that ideological war among CSOs is yet another bane that mars their performance. Placing this in perspective, the authors state that “where the radicals perceive it as an arena to challenge the status quo and build new alternatives, while the neo-liberals situate it as an avenue to remedy the ills brought to the fore by marked failures to be engaged in service provision, not for profit” (Dakyyen & Dang, 2014, p. 50).


Study Area

The study was conducted in the Badagry Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos state and Ipokia LGA of Ogun State, Nigeria. These states – both in the Southwestern part of Nigeria – were selected for logistical reasons such as proximity and ease of access to participants for data gathering. Lagos state is made up of twenty LGAs, out of which four LGAs are classified as rural areas. These are Badagry, Epe, Ibeju-Lekki, and Ikorodu. While Ogun state, also made up of twenty LGAs has six rural areas namely: Ado-Odo/Ota, Egbado North, Imeko-Afon, Ipokia, Odeda, and Ogun Waterside. Badagry, which occupies 442,993 of the total 3,496,449 land size (km2) of Lagos state, is a town on the bank of creeks, waterways, and lagoons, connecting to Lagos and Porto Novo (Republic of Benin) and is bordered by Seme and the Gulf of Guinea to the west and south respectively. Ipokia on the other hand occupies 631,884 of the total 16,980,550 land size (km2) of Ogun State It is situated to the west of Ogun state and connects Lagos state and the Republic of Benin. In other words, the selected areas; Badagry and Ipokia, asides from being interlinked, are both located in the same axis connecting Seme, a border town in the Benin Republic (Federal Government of Nigeria [FGN], 2010; Harris, 2017; Oyeyemi, Ogunnowo & Odukoya, 2014).

Figure 1. Badagry and Ipokia Local Government Areas in Lagos and Ogun States respectively

Source: Authors

Study Design

The study adopted a descriptive survey method in an attempt to describe the perception of rural dwellers on the role of civil society organizations in promoting social inclusion in Nigeria. By choosing this method, the authors were able to describe the characteristics of the population and make use of a probability sampling technique to ensure an accurate representation of the population as well as to collect and analyze data from a subset of a larger group.

Sampling Strategy

The first step here was to determine the population of the selected areas i.e. Badagry and Ipokia. The official 2006 Nigeria population census report shows that a total of 237,731 people is resident in the area with a gender distribution of 50.4 per cent male and 49.6 per cent female. Meanwhile, Ipokia has a population of 150,387 with a gender distribution of 49.6 per cent male and 50.4 per cent female, indicating that there are more male residents in Ipokia compared to Badagry (see FGN, 2010). Having stated the population, the next phase was to define the sample.

Badagry and Ipokia LGAs were randomly selecting (by balloting) out of the respective four and six rural areas in Lagos and Ogun States. Having identified the LGAs to be sampled, multistage sampling was then applied to scale down the larger groups. For instance, Badagry LGA was divided into ten major towns: Ajara, Aradagun, Badagry, Gbaji, Ibereko, Itoga, Mosafejo, Mowo, Oko Afo, and Seme border. These towns were further divided into districts and consequently into streets. Then, two streets were randomly selected from each town to give a total of twenty streets from Badagry identified for the study.

In the same manner, Ipokia LGA was divided into ten towns: Agosasa, Aseko, Idiroko, Ifonyintedo, Ijofin, Ilashe, Ita Egbe, Madoga, Tongeji, and Tube. As was done in Badagry, the towns in Ipokia were further divided into districts and streets. Two streets were randomly selected from each town to give a total of twenty streets from Ipokia identified for the study. By implication, a total of forty streets were randomly selected for the study from both states.

To determine the actual sample size, Guilford and Fluchter formula for estimating sample size was applied and the following sample was arrived at:


Where N = Population size (Badagry) = 237731

Q = alpha = 0.05

Size = 399 ≈ 400

Population size (Ipokia) = 150387

Size = 398.93 ≈ 400

Therefore, the total sample size for the two areas is 800. Given a total sample size of eight hundred, the authors decided to disperse the sample size across the sample areas identified. As a result, twenty respondents were randomly selected from each of the forty streets in Badagry and Ipokia LGAs as participants of the study.

Data Collection and Analysis

The study made use of direct administration of survey instruments in data collection. The data collection process – which was carried out between July and November 2019 – was done using a structured questionnaire. To facilitate the data gathering process and ensure a degree of reliability in the responses, the authors ensured that only participants who could read and write partook in the study. Meanwhile, to lessen the burden of administration and guarantee efficiency, the services of three trained research assistants were employed and the instrument administration was done on a town by town basis. The questionnaire entitled “Perception on Civil Society Organization and Social Inclusion Questionnaire” (PCSOSIQ) contained two sections. The first section elicited data on the sociodemographic characteristics of the participants while the second section contained questions bordering on the areas germane to the study: participants’ knowledge of civil society organizations (CSOs), perceived functions as well as the role of CSOs in social inclusion. The data generated for the study were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) v. 22. The results are presented in the succeeding section. Meanwhile, one participant each was selected from the towns and interviewed on their recommendations for civil society organizations’ role in promoting social inclusion in the rural area. By implication, a total of twenty participants were interviewed.


Sociodemographic Characteristics

All the questionnaire distributed for the study was retrieved and ascertained valid before coding for analysis. The result of the analysis is hereby presented in this section. Table 1 shows the sociodemographic data of the participants wherein the majority – 455 (56.9%) male and 345 (43.1) female participated in the study. This indicates that there are more male residents in the study area. Concerning the age group of the participants, 138 (17.3%) fall within the age bracket of 18-25 years, 236 (29.5%) are between the age group of 26-33 years, 308 (38.5%) are within the age bracket of 34-40 years, while 118 (14.8%) participants are either 40 years or above. By implication, the majority of the respondents are within the age group of 34-40 years. Concerning the education level of the participants, 78 (9.8%) attended only primary school, 376 (47%) have had secondary education, while 346 (43.2%) have post-secondary education. Hence, the majority of the respondents have secondary education; meaning they can read, comprehend, and respond to the items of the research instrument. About the employment status of the participants, 257 (32.1%) are employed, while 543 (67.9%) are unemployed. Thus, the majority of the study participants are unemployed.

Table 1. Sociodemographic variables

Sociodemographic characteristic of participants (n=800)













Age group

18-25 years



26-33 years



34-40 years



40 years and above





Education level












Employment status









Source: Authors’ Survey

Knowledge of Civil Society Organizations

Chi-Square Tests



Asymp. Sig. (2-sided)

Pearson Chi-Square




Likelihood Ratio




Linear-by-Linear Association




N of Valid Cases



A chi-square test was conducted to determine rural dwellers’ knowledge of civil society organizations. The result is statistically significant with a chi-square at 139.519 and a p-value of .000 which is less than the level of significance of 0.05. In other words, the null hypothesis is rejected while the research hypothesis is accepted. Thus, rural dwellers are knowledgeable of the existence of CSOs.

Functions of Civil Society Organizations

Chi-Square Tests



Asymp. Sig. (2-sided)

Pearson Chi-Square




Likelihood Ratio




Linear-by-Linear Association




N of Valid Cases



A chi-square test was conducted to determine rural dwellers’ knowledge of the functions of CSOs. The result is not statistically significant with chi-square at 8.945 and a p-value of .234 which is greater than the level of significance of 0.05. In other words, the null hypothesis is accepted while the research hypothesis is rejected. Thus, rural dwellers are oblivious to the functions of CSOs.

Role of Civil Society Organizations in Social Inclusion

Chi-Square Tests



Asymp. Sig. (2-sided)

Pearson Chi-Square




Likelihood Ratio




Linear-by-Linear Association




N of Valid Cases


A chi-square test was conducted to determine the knowledge of rural dwellers on the role of CSOs in social inclusion. The result is not statistically significant with chi-square at 13.292 and a p-value of .312 which is greater than the level of significance of 0.05. In other words, the null hypothesis is accepted while the research hypothesis is rejected. Thus, rural dwellers are not convinced of the role of CSOs in social inclusion.


The result of the analysis shows that even though the rural dwellers of Lagos and Ogun states know of the existence of CSOs, they are not properly informed of their functions. More so, these rural dwellers are not convinced of the role of CSOs in social inclusion, in their areas. The information gathered during the interview process also lends credence to this submission. It was gathered during the interview that the presence of CSOs is largely restricted to religious houses. It was also gathered that youth are not actively involved in the activities of the CSOs, who majorly operate as an arm of religious organizations. The participants berated the lack of sensitization of CSOs in their area, as well as their lack of concern for the rural dwellers’ plight. CSOs have not contributed notably to capacity development in the study area. For instance, one of the participants noted that rural areas are often neglected by non-government organizations in awarding a scholarship to deserving students. More so, little is being done in combating gender inequality in the area.

Limitations of the Study

The research is limited to one rural area each from Lagos state and Ogun state. While the selected areas seem, representative, consideration couldn’t be given to the entire rural areas in the country.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The thrust of this study is how civil society organizations are perceived by rural people in their efforts towards engendering social inclusion in Nigeria. This is not just another academic exercise and discourse, but an exigent attempt to provoke civil society organizations to intensify their drive towards social inclusiveness in Nigeria, particularly in rural areas. This is because, social exclusion, multidimensional poverty, deprivation, marginalization, and inequality have become recurrently debated issues in Nigeria’s socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and socio-developmental strides. These issues are particularly pervasive in rural areas. As this study has shown, the knowledge of the existence of CSOs by rural dwellers though not in doubt, its functions and role in promoting social inclusion, are however elusive.

Based on the findings of the study, it is recommended that CSOs should maintain social media presence to engage rural dwellers.

CSOs in collaboration with NGOs should increase their activities in rural areas, especially through the award of scholarships; creating employment opportunities; promoting poverty reduction programmes; and combating gender inequality.

CSOs should involve youth in their sensitization programmes by erecting situating billboards in strategic rural areas, schools, and places of worship. In addition to this, CSOs should establish clubs/associations in schools to indoctrinate youth and prepare them for civic responsibility.

CSOs should pay serious attention to capacity development, promotion of entrepreneurial skills, and empowerment programmes.

CSOs should consolidate the efforts of religious leaders and organize town hall meetings, share tracts, bulletins, and newsletters, to inform citizens of their activities and seek ways to consolidate them.


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1 Political Science Department, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Nigeria, Address: Otto/Ijanikin, Lagos State, Nigeria, Tel.: +2348025355543, Corresponding author:

2 Department of Political Science, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos State, Nigeria, E-mail:

3 Department of Political Science, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos State, Nigeria, E-mail:

4 Department of Political Science, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos State, Nigeria, E-mail:

5 Department of Political Science, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos State, Nigeria, E-mail:

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