Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) came to be after several years of ideological and active struggles of students and progressive academics. These progressive individuals had struggled to wage revolution led by the proletariats. However, the Structural Adjustment Program made nonsense of all the gains of leftist decades of carefully organized ideological engagements. Wage gains of workers were undermined, the middle class became pauperized and market values retrogressed. Moreover, this liberalization of the economy was undertaken by a brutal military regime that brooked neither opposition nor democratic expression.
When the CLO emerged in 1987, the left in Nigeria received it with a cold shoulder. However, when its advocacy began to gain success as awaiting prison inmates were released in tens and hundred, the left joined the CLO in attempt to hijack it and use it for the revolution. Olisa Agbakoba the founding president frustrated every move by refusing to democratize the CLO and continued to run it with fiat. The left got frustrated and joined with others to establish the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) and later the Gani Solidarity Foundation. They were however systematically marginalized from these organizations as donors were careful not to fund radical groups, but to support the ascendancy of right wing middle class elements. All that these elements needed to tell the donors was that these radicals were communists.
The methods used for advocacy by these groups was the legal challenge of Human Rights abuses and media campaigns with little engagement with the workers and the poor also angered the left. They could clearly see that centuries of such advocacy could not transform Nigeria into an egalitarian society or end bourgeois dominance of the economy or political oppression. Moreover, these right wing middle class elements were growing wealthy with funds given to them to better the lot of the weak and poor. To add to the frustration, these elements ran these human rights groups as fiefdoms, neither respecting the right of their own workers or allowing members to participate in the decision making process. Those seen as opposition were simply excluded.
It was in the context of this that a few former student leaders and left wing academics and labour activists decided that there was need for the left to establish their own NGO where they can practice real human and people’s rights and directly mobilize and empower the masses to change their lot. The core group that thought out the founding of this organization comprise: Tony Akika, Chima Ubani, Emma Ezeazu, Labaran Maku, Attahiru Jega, Akin Fadahunsi,Ehi Ogbe, Hassan Sunmonu, Ali Chiroma, Glory Kilanko, Igbuzo Otive, Hajia Najatu Mohammed, John Odah and Chom Bagu among others. The idea of a participatory NGO that will focus on economic and socio-political rights was very popular with many who did not like the noisy and self celebrative methods of the “Lagos” NGOs.
The Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) was therefore established in circumstances that were agitational. The decision to locate the organizations head office in Abuja and to adopt a participatory mode of operation also increased the unease of the “Lagos” NGOs who were quick to label the organization as regional. Yet, the northern strategy was because the North had no serious NGO and the lack of a serious privately owned print media (since the broadcast media was owned only by government). This made media advocacy impossible.
Locating the organization in Abuja focusing on Northern Nigeria was to take advantage of the virginity (NGO wise) of the North. Adopting a participatory approach was also adopted because the people of the North were critical of European influences and their agenda of foisting western values on Nigerians which they associated with the Lagos NGO community. A participatory approach allowed the people to set their own agenda while CAPP serves as facilitator.
However, locating CAPP in the FCT was fraught with danger as General Babangida’s government that had been forced to leave Lagos because of the Okah coup and the agitation of NGOs, was sensitive to the existence of NGOs in the FCT. Hence when CAPP moved to establish presence in Abuja, General Babangida got to know about it and sent his men to hijack it. He reasoned that CAPP was left leaning and if left alone could constitute a security threat. However, he acknowledged that CAPP had a patriotic agenda that government could be used for its own purposes. Government offered N6m to support the establishment of CAPP and a building to serve as its office. This generous gesture was out rightly refused.
Refusal to hand over CAPP to the government opened CAPP to hostility from government and its agency. The attempt by CAPP to register with the CAC suffered setbacks for almost a decade. All IGPs and SSS Directors minuted on the CAPP File opposing its registration. CAPP was only able to register in 2000, a process that started in 1991.
Since its establishment in 1993, CAPP has blazed a progressive trail. From its entry workshops in Jos, Minna and Zaria, in 1992, the organization has touched the lives of people across the North and several communities in the south. Projects include “Damned By the Dam” in Niger, Kwara, Kebbi and Kogi States, Accountability in Governance in the FCT and Plateau State, drama for social change in Zaria, working with the Public Complaints Commission, empowering riverine communities nationally, grassroots peacemaking in Ganawuri, Plateau state and Transforming Education for Girls in eight northern states. "The novelty of CAPP’s approach has been praised nationally and many communities now look up to CAPP as an organic partner".
CAPP has also had very charismatic leadership. It started with Alhaji Ali Chiroma, former Nigeria Labour Congress president with board members that included Kabiru Yusuf of Trust Newspapers, Rufai Ibrahim, renowned journalist, Najatu Mohammed, woman politician, Dr. Festus Iyayi and Yima Sen among others. Its Board of Trustees is also headed by Hasan Sunmonu, General Secretary of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity. After Ali Chiroma, there have been three other presidents: Y.Z Yau, Chom Bagu and now Yakubu Aliyu.
The Secretariat has also seen changes in leadership. The founding Executive Director was Emma Ezeazu who laid the foundation of the organization. He was succeeded by late Joseph Mamman, then Clement Shekogaza Wasah and now Kyauta Giwa. There have also been a rich crop of staff that have made their contributions to the growth of the organization.
When the full story of CAPP is told, there will be many names and many heroes to be celebrated, but nothing else will stand out than the vision that has weathered the test of time and continue to invigorate thousands in support of communities to help themselves.