Strengthening Performance of Civil Society Through Dialogue and Critical Thinking in Nigeria: Its Ethical Implications

Strengthening Performance of Civil Society Through Dialogue and Critical Thinking in Nigeria: Its Ethical Implications

Essien Essien (University of Uyo, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4197-4.ch005
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This chapter discusses dialogue and critical thinking as a tool for civil society's performance and achievements in contemporary societies. The problem statement raises the need for knowledge of what dialogue and critical thinking is, as well as the competence in how to employ and apply its tools in policy engagement. Drawing upon extensive contemporary literature on civil society and policy engagement, this study examines how to enhance the performance of civil society organizations through the paradigm of dialogue and critical thinking. Findings reveal that critical thinking and dialogue is crucial in the success story of civil society organizations, just as the quality of the work accomplished is contingent upon the quality of the ideas, critical thinking and analysis of the problems to be solved. This chapter therefore, has a significant implications for cumulative research on the nexus between critical thinking and dialogue in Civil Society in contemporary societies
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Despite the growing significance and enormous influence of civil society organizations in the developing world especially Africa, the institution remains partially understood. Civil society has been a core concept of social theory and scholarship for centuries. This explains why the issues involving civil societies in many cultures have been contested within political philosophy, sociology and numerous humanities discipline for hundreds of years, yet, many issues are still unresolved (Aiyede, 2012). Classical debates from leading thinkers, like Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Tocqueville and Gellner, around civil society had the issues of proofs and understanding at the heart of their discussion, but in contemporary research, the goal post have been extended to subjects like ethics, dialogues, critical thinking, and engagement strategies. Civil society in contemporary societies and rapidly changing world is generally recognised, accepted and established as a diverse and ever-wider bionetwork of individuals, communities and organizations (Mundy, 2010). They constitute a genuine constituency that sits alongside other stakeholders in the society to foster sustainable development through governance processes, service delivery, and transformative behavioural pattern. This lends credence to why civil society organizations in many societies are playing an increasingly important role in the efforts to achieve sustainable development on many spheres of life. The organizations have been working alongside with governments in activities pertaining to the goals on poverty reduction, empowerment of women, increased transparency, and notably to encouraging people’s participation in decision-making and policy implementation (Weijer & Kilnes, 2012).

Nonetheless, current discussions regarding civil societies have tended to a shift emphasis toward the harsh realities of increasing global inequalities, poverty, and lack of development as a major concern to the international community over the years. Thus, while many witness economic growth and prosperity in some parts of the world, there are more than a billion people who continue to live in poverty with a purchasing power of less than a dollar a day. In Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan African countries for instance, about one fifth of the children in the first year of their birth die, nearly half of those who survive are malnourished and a significant proportion of the population does not have access to clear water, sanitation, basic health services and education (Essien, 2016). Here then lies the clarion call on civil society for solidarity and determination for a sustainability thinking and action.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is a normative concept which determines the quality of thinking in a given circumstances. It involves a set of intellectual tools to be well mobilized in the context of problem solving, decision making and in the context of interacting with others. This set of intellectual tools includes abilities to argue and analyze arguments, judge the credibility of a source information, make inferences (reaching conclusions based on sound evidence and reasons) and decide on an action, as well as dispositions which define critical spirit (that which motivates critical thinkers to use critical thinking abilities in their own thinking and in that of others). Additionally, thinking critically enables the person to consciously and deliberately seek and use knowledge and criteria that relates effectively to the issue or question under consideration. Critical thinking is the ability to consider a range of information derived from many different sources, to process this information in a creative and logical manner, challenging it, analysing it and arriving at considered conclusions which can be defended and justified. Its opposites are prejudice and the risk to judgement.

Good Governance: The concept of governance has been variously defined by scholars. The term connotes “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development”. It also implies the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Good governance comprises the mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”.

Dialogue: The notion of dialogue is an important concept in the contemporary world. It plays a very significant role in many public discourses, and has influence throughout the world in various facets of life. Dialogue is a multifaceted concept which manifest explicitly in the philosophical, theological and social dimension of the society. The concept of dialogue first appeared in ancient times, in Greece, where ancient thinkers thought that dialogue helped both to develop knowledge (science) and to shape man's character, as well as to develop man's individuality and in result particular personality. Dialogue dialogue can properly be described as a special kind of discourse that enables people with different perspectives and worldviews to work together to achieve certain objectives in life such as dispelling mistrust and creating a climate of good faith, break through negative stereotypes, shift the focus in all human endeavours from transactions to relationships and creating community, making participants in dialogue more sympathetic to one another even when there are disagreements, preparing the ground for negotiation or decision making on emotion-laden issues in the society, and expanding the number of people committed to constructive decisions on challenging issues.

Public Policy Engagement: Public Policy Engagement indicates a new way of thinking about how governments, stakeholders, communities and ordinary citizens can work together to achieve complex, societal goals. It involves participating effectively in the policy-making process and aspirations regarding how to have a positive impact on the lives of people in different societies and/or countries.

Development Actors: Development actors are individuals, groups and agencies that exist and do carry out specific functions in every society. In any given society or country, there are people who are responsible for the development of the society by reason of their activities. They are institutions and/or organisations like civil society, government, community based groups and parastatals. Development actors refer to the role of persons as active players in the process of development. Development actors serve as agents with the capacity to take responsibility for people lives, and also make decisions that result in action and achievements. Agency has to do with the capacity for activity.

Accountability: The phrase “accountability” is originally derived from the Latin word “accomptare” which means “to account” for something. It has often been used synonymously with other concepts such as “answerability”, “enforcement”, “responsibility”, “blameworthiness”, and “liability”. However, the duplicity notwithstanding, all the terms used in connection with the concept of accountability are associated with one common meaning which is the “obligation and expectation of account-giving” about what one has done or how an individual or corporate body plans to and/or conducts its activities. It has to do with responsiveness and being answerable to somebody or the people.

Civil Society: There is no general consensus on the definition of civil society. But civil society can be defined as an arena in which people take common actions to pursue common objectives without reward of profit or political power. These organizations range from associations, unions, and mass organizations, networks, social organizations, to social movements. Civil society is both a way of describing aspects of modern society and an aspiration, as well as an ideal of what a good society should be like. The idea of civil society also represents one version of the democratic ideal, that is, the aspiration toward a form of social life in which individuals, by acting together, would set the patterns of social life on the basis of reasoned discussion and responsible choice. Nonetheless, the core of the concept of civil society is the recognition that human societies are grounded in and held together by shared norms and moral understandings.

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