The Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy in Nigeria

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Global Community
Philanthropic Traditions
The nonprofit sector in Nigeria has been increasingly active in charitable causes. Through the years, charity has progressed from individual charitable acts of helping the poor to more organized philanthropy, such as corporate social responsibility. Individuals, families, wealthy capitalists, actors in the Nigerian film industry, and church leaders are using foundations and other nonprofits to contribute their resources toward addressing social problems. Some are motivated by deep interest in solving societal problems, especially in alleviating poverty and the provision of free education and healthcare; others are creating a family legacy in philanthropic giving.

Written by Anastesia Okaomee



The nonprofit sector in Nigeria comprises “private, voluntary, nonprofit organizations, and associations” (Anheier 2014, 4). Organizations within the nonprofit sector in Nigeria are referred to as Not-for-profit Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The nonprofit sector includes different legal organizational forms. These are:  incorporated trustees, companies limited by guarantee, unincorporated associations, charitable trusts, political parties, cooperatives, friendly societies, and trade unions. They promote educational, religious, scientific, health, cultural, sporting, social, and charitable purposes.

The constitution permits establishment of nonprofits in Nigeria. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) provides regulation for operating nonprofits. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) registers and supervises nonprofits in Nigeria, and most nonprofits register as Incorporated Trustees or Companies Limited by Guarantee. The 2014 Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act forbids registration of organizations that promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activities (Centre for Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, n.d).

Tax-exemption is permitted for public benefit organizations - public benefit status is not specially granted by the law but public benefit activities are recognized by tax benefits. They are exempted from paying income tax, under the Companies Income Tax Act (CITA), on the condition that the income is not realized from engaging in business activities. The companies so recognized for income tax exemption are those carrying on ecclesiastical, educational, charitable, or sporting activities. However, when a nonprofit (public benefit organization) engages in business activities, it pays income tax at the same rate applied to other corporate bodies, irrespective of whether or not the business activity is related to the nonprofit’s purpose. Unincorporated associations are not exempted from income tax. In general, nonprofits in Nigeria are required to pay Value-Added Tax (VAT) (CoF 2017).

Tax benefits for charitable donations are provided by the law. However, only donations made by companies to public benefit organizations are tax-deductible, not exceeding 10% of the company’s total profits in the given year. Charitable donations by individuals to some organizations are not tax-deductible (CoF 2017).

The Non-Distribution Constraint applies to nonprofits in Nigeria. The law forbids nonprofits from distributing their profit, and their board members from taking up paid positions in the organization (CoF 2017).

With regards to lobbying, nonprofits in Nigeria are not statutorily prohibited from engaging in political activities or endorsing a political candidate. However, Companies Limited by Guarantee are not to sponsor political activities. (CoF 2017).


Historic Roots

As a former British colony, charity in Nigeria has historic roots in British charitable practices and common law. Religious teachings and beliefs formed the basis for most individual charitable acts and philanthropic engagements by groups and associations. This is true for Christians and Muslims as well.  The Nigeria civil war dating back five decades prompted the entrance of international philanthropic organizations with food and relief materials for the poor and those affected severely by the war, especially in the war torn ‘Biafra’ region of Nigeria. Also, the crises in parts of northern Nigeria, and the agitations in the Niger Delta region of the country over environmental degradation by oil exploration, marginalization, and resource control were added impetus for proliferation of nonprofits and attraction of more international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) into Nigeria, in the bid to address emerging socio-economic issues. This also led to increased collaboration between indigenous nonprofits and international NGOs to facilitate effective distribution of aid, wider reach of philanthropic activities in rural communities, and effective engagement of the civil society organizations. Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO), established in 1992 serve as a coordinating body for Nigerian NGOs in collaborating with the federal government and multilateral agencies. NNNGO had about 1,287 NGOs registered as members in 2017. This number however excludes religious congregations, several foundations, and other philanthropic organizations active in Nigeria.

The period of political turmoil that existed during military rule led to withdrawal of international donor organizations from dealing directly with government. These organizations formed new networks through which they carried out charitable purposes, channeling most of their funds toward human rights and good governance initiatives, and addressing HIV/AIDs. The period also witnessed proliferation of nonprofits in the country (NNNGO 2017).



The nonprofit sector in Nigeria has been actively engaged in charitable causes, and corporate business entities are increasingly engaging in philanthropy through their corporate social responsibility programs. Through the years, charity has progressed from individual charitable acts of helping the poor to more organized philanthropy.

There is an increase in awareness and in establishment of philanthropic initiatives and organizations. Individuals, families, wealthy capitalists, actors in the Nigerian film industry Nollywood, and church leaders are using foundations and other nonprofit forms to contribute their resources in addressing social problems. Some, especially the religious leaders and wealthy capitalists are motivated by deep interest in solving societal problems, especially in alleviating poverty and the provision of free education and healthcare, while others are creating family legacy in philanthropic giving. Through collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), nonprofits in Nigeria were mobilized to support the government in the Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI), addressing drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. This broadened the collaboration between civil society organizations and the government (NNNGO n.d).

Overall, the nonprofit sector has become more organized, and top indigenous foundations are making philanthropic impact beyond the shores of Nigeria and in the continent, including the Aliko Dangote Foundation, the TY Danjuma Foundation, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Various forms of organizations have been identified as part of the nonprofit sector in Nigeria. These organizations are regularly referred to as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Not-For-Profit Organizations, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and recently, as Philanthropic Organizations (POs). Human Rights Groups are also used to refer to some civil society organizations advocating for human rights.

As these nonprofits organizations fulfill the roles of nonprofits including service, advocacy, cultural, civic, and vanguard roles (Payton and Moody, 2008), they engage in philanthropic actions that serve the needs of individuals, families, communities, and society.


Key Related Ideas

  • Civil Society includes the organizations and institutions occupying the space between the market and the state (Salamon 2003). "The nonprofit sector provides the organizational infrastructure of civil society" (Anheier, 2014:9).
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) refer to nonprofit organizations which operate independent of the government (Wikipedia 2017).


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Ken Sarowiwa (Oct. 10, 1941 - Nov. 10, 1995) was a writer and activist. He led the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) against the military government, and the Royal Dutch Shell PLC for environmental degradation in his native Ogoni land, an ethnic minority in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria (Encyclopedia Britannica 2017).
  • Gani Fawehinmi (Apr. 22, 1938 - Sept. 5, 2009) was a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In his activism in promoting rule of law, social justice and fundamental rights of the poor and oppressed, he fought legal battles with the military dictatorship of the time (Wikipedia 2017).


Related Organizations

  • Nigerian Network of NGOS (NNNGO) - The NNNGO was established in 1992, as an outcome of the meeting between 60 NGOs in Nigeria, FMOH, USIAD, Society for Family, World Health Organization, The British High Commission, Ford Foundation, UNICEF, World Bank, British Council, Department For International Development (DFID), UNESCO, UNIC, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and the Goethe Institute, to coordinate and harness the activities of NGOs in Nigeria for better collaboration with the federal government, and with international and multilateral agencies (
  • National Planning Commission - The Federal Government Decree No 12 of 1992 established the National Planning Commission, and Act 71 of 1993 amended it. The commission advises the government of economic matters and oversees bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation in Nigeria, including "development aid and technical assistance" (
  • Philanthropic Activities By Sector - This statutory law recognizes nonprofits in Nigeria in various fields including: education, religion, health, social services (sports), and community development. Lack of empirical research however makes it difficult to provide actual statistics on philanthropic activities or subsector analysis in Nigeria. Hence, subsector analysis is without actual figures.
  • Religion - According to the Pew Research Center, Nigeria has the largest Christian population in Africa with over 85 million Christians belonging to various Christian denominations (Wikipedia 2017). The country also has the largest Muslim population in West Africa (Wikipedia, 2017). Top church leaders establish foundations through which they make philanthropic impact. These include the Chris Oyakhilome Foundation, the David Oyedepo Foundation, the David Ibiyeomie Foundation, and the OPM Foundation. They teach Christian obligation in charitable giving. Consequently, apart from obligatory paying of tithes and giving of offerings, members support social initiatives including relieving the poor, orphans, widows and victims of natural disasters, repairing roads, renovating schools, and providing free schools and scholarships. Church congregations are increasing and the youth form a large percentage of attendees especially in contemporary worship centers.
  • Education - Nonprofits in the field of education operate at elementary, secondary, and higher education. There are about 69 accredited private universities as of 2017(Nigerian Universities Commission n.d). Religious organizations are operating schools at all levels with many Christian universities springing up. Many average and well-to-do individuals are establishing schools in increasing numbers, especially pre-schools, elementary, and secondary schools. Philanthropic giving to education is mostly by alumni and through alumni associations. Top philanthropic foundations in Nigeria are also investing in education.
  • Health - Many nonprofits in Nigeria address health issues including polio, HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child health.  Some engage in health research, and others focus on education and sensitization programs dealing with issues like birth control and teenage pregnancies. International donor agencies usually support nonprofits in this sector. Kanu Heart Foundation is an indigenous foundation that addresses heart diseases in children.
  • Sports - About 24 sports are played in Nigeria. Government provides funding support for sporting activities (Federal Republic of Nigeria n.d).  Men and women football are among prominent sports in Nigeria. The rich own many sports clubs.



  • Anheier, H. K. (2014). Nonprofit Organizations: theory, management, policy. Second edition. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Centre for Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (n.d). Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) ACT, 2014.  Accessed 20 December 2017.,-2014.html 
  • Council on Foundations.  Nigeria. Accessed 1 November 2017.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica (2017).  Ken Saro-Wiwa: Nigerian author and Activist.  Accessed 28 November 2017.
  • Federal Republic of Nigeria (n.d). Sports
  • Nigerian Universities Commission. Accessed 19 December 2017.
  • NNNGO (n.d).  Our History. Accessed 1 November 2017.
  • O’Sullivan, K. (2010, January 21).  Re: It began in Africa: a brief history of NGOs, the media and emergency aid. Accessed 1 November 2017.
  • Odunsi, A. (2017). Legal framework for the establishment of not-for-profit organization. Accessed 1 November 2017.
  • Payton, R. L, & Moody, M. P. (2008). Understanding philanthropy : Its meaning and mission. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Salamon, L. M., Sokolowski, S. W. and List, R. (2003). Global Civil Society: An Overview. The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218-2688, USA.
  • Wikipedia (2017). Christianity in Nigeria.  Accessed 5 November 2017.
  • Wikipedia (2017). Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning (Nigeria). Accessed 21 November 2017.
  • Wikipedia (2017). Gani Fawehinmi. Accessed 28 November 2017.
  • Wikipedia (2017). Non-governmental Organizations. Accessed 21 November 2017.
  • Wikipedia (2017). Islam in Nigeria. Accessed 5 November 2017.

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.