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17.05.2021 Social Justice Over N1bn NGO Funds Without Accountability! A Lagos-Based American Couple is Scamming Nigeria’s Poorest

Published 17th May, 2021

By Damilola Ayeni

Megan Chapman and Andrew Maki arrived Nigeria about 10 years ago to work as interns at the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) in Lagos. They fell out with SERAC few years later and went on a grant-getting spree.

Megan and Andrew are Americans. Their rapport with Nigerian informal settlers began in 2013 with the establishment of the Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, a civil rights movement of urban poor supported by SERAC. Members of the movement were drawn from several wigwam communities within and outside Lagos, especially Badia East, which had just suffered forceful eviction.     

A demolition squad from the Lagos State Government stormed Badia East armed with guns and bulldozers on a Saturday in February 2013. They pulled down houses and set them on fire. Three residents died in the process and by evening, thousands, including children and aged people, had become homeless.

The eviction was to give way for a $200million World Bank-funded Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project (LMDGP). Despite clear terms from the funder that the government should avoid forced displacement of vulnerable people, and where inevitable ensure adequate notice and compensation, the Lagos State Government tore Badia East apart and turned residents to street sleepers.

THE BIRTH OF SDI

Bimbo Osobe lived several months under a mosquito net. She told FIJ how her home and shop were damaged in the forceful eviction. She sent her kids to live with family members, as she could no longer shoulder their upkeep. Bimbo would become one of the foundation members of a new social rights movement for urban poor.

Badia East eviction brought Slum Dwellers International (SDI) to Nigeria in 2013. SDI is a network of urban poor present in over 30 countries across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The climax of the visit was the establishment of Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, which activities would be funded by several international organizations.

As part of SDI’s policies, a federation must operate in partnership with an NGO for technical and administrative support, a role SERAC played in the first few months of the movement. When Felix Morka, the Executive Director of SERAC, delved into partisan politics in 2014, members of the Nigerian Federation felt uncomfortable with his organization and sought an alternative.

Megan and Andrew, who had left SERAC shortly after the federation took off, showed up at this point. They had registered Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEI) in the US two years earlier and were working on registering Community Legal Support Initiative (CLSI) in Nigeria. The couple looked good for the job.

“We accepted them because they once worked with SERAC and were familiar with the modus operandi of SDI,” Raymond Gold, a coordinator at the Nigerian Federation, told FIJ.

GRANTS, GRANTS AND MORE GRANTS!

A JEI event from 2016

The partnership kicked off in 2014, and between then and now, findings revealed, Megan and Andrew may have received well over N1billion naira in grants on behalf of the Nigerian Federation. However, none of the federation members knows how much was received and spent at any point. In a petition written to the Department of State Service (DSS) in February, Rebecca Roberts, then then Policy and Advocacy Officer at JEI, revealed, among others, that the NGO received €101,855 annually since 2016 from the Government of the Netherlands, another €25,000 paralegal training fund for urban poor, then two tranches of $200,000 to help women facing exploitation, abuse and/or violence.

Roberts had worked at JEI between 2017 and 2018, during which she witnessed high-level corruption and deliberate abuse of the very people the Americans claim to protect.

‘SLAVERY AND FORGERY’

“In their country, they treat us as slaves,” Roberts told FIJ. “They come to our country and still treat us so.”

According to Roberts, JEI pays a foundation member as little as N150 after spending a whole day at a rally, despite the release of between N5,000 and N15,000 daily for each participant by donors. The American couple also has the habit of “forging” signatures of their Nigerian workers without seeking their permission.

Knowing of Roberts’ influence in the Nigerian diplomatic community, they once appended her signature to a funding application to the Australian High Commission without her consent, and then shielded her from finding out by excluding her from meetings with the recipients of the document.

Similarly, a former staff attorney at JEI told FIJ how Megan forged her signature to process her release after running into trouble with the DSS in 2015.

COUNTRY MANAGER IN THE DARK

In his own account, a former Country Manager at JEI, said Megan and Andrew used his passport data page and signature to process Nigerian visas for a couple of foreign nationals without his approval.

The man who craved anonymity resigned from the organization in November 2020. In his six years as Country Manager, JEI got funds from SDI, Oxfam, Government of the Netherlands, Sundance, NED, Norwegian Project Funding and the International Development Center (IDRC), but he was in the dark over details of the monies.

“By the virtue of my position as Country Manager, I was supposed to be aware of everything going on in the organization,” he said. “But I can tell you that I didn’t know 90 percent. I had so many roles on paper, but not in reality.”

Gold, a coordinator of the Nigerian Federation, a group without which JEI would not have received the grants, confirmed JEI’s lack of transparency to FIJ.

“We know nothing about what they are raising,” he said. “And we don’t even see the effects of these hundreds of millions of naira in our communities. When we ask questions, they say we are insubordinate. You have been raising money in our name and then we cannot ask you questions.”

POOR IN NIGERIA, RICH IN THE US

Megan and Andrew live as poor people in Nigeria, but an ex-worker at JEI said an investigation conducted by the DSS in 2012 revealed that they own houses in New York, Washington and Boston.

Although drawn back by the divide and conquer tactic often employed by Megan and Andrew, concerned individuals at JEI and the Nigerian Federation have made several attempts to report happenings to donors and the Nigerian authority. A petition written to SDI in 2020, accusing Megan and Andrew of “oppression, manipulation and sheer abuses of poor people”, blew up, but the Americans successfully weathered the storm by luring few federation members to defend them against the majority.

JEI emerged clean, following a report by investigators it bankrolled. It beats the imagination of foundation members how Megan and Andrew were the jury in their own case.

Pursuant to the 2011 Freedom of Information Act, 19 coordinators of the Nigerian Federation recently requested JEI to release details of grants and donations received on behalf of their movement since 2014.

The law mandates public institutions operating in Nigeria to comply with requests for details of their activities within seven days, but for three weeks, the Americans refused to respond. When they eventually did, days after FIJ reached out to Megan, the response was miles away from the information sought.

Rather than release details of grants and donations as requested, Megan talked about how JEI is “well-known for its tireless work in defence of and in partnership with urban poor communities”.

“We are deeply committed to continuing this work in line with our core principles, which includes a commitment to radical transparency and co-creation/co-production that has always guided our work,” she said in part.

“We hope this helps you decide whether to pursue this matter further, and should you elect to, we trust you will faithfully seek out and represent the truth.”

JEI is not a legal entity in Nigeria. A search on Nigeria’s Corporate Affairs Commission did not also produce details of CLSI, the purported locally-registered organization the Americans use as conduit in their grant-making business.

Meanwhile, Megan did not respond to foundation members’ FOI request until FIJ contacted her. And her response to FIJ’s queries was a reproduction of what she had given to the FOI request.

“My husband and I have been the subject of a malicious smear campaign by a group of individuals who were attempting to undermine the good work of JEI and the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation for personal reasons and profit,” she concluded.

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Published 17th May, 2021

By Damilola Ayeni

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