NGO reg­u­la­tion bill: To be or not to be?

Since the in­tro­duc­tion of the Non-gov­ern­men­tal Or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGO) Reg­u­la­tion Bill on the floor of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, there have been se­ri­ous ag­i­ta­tions on the side of NGOs who al­leged that the bill is an at­tempt to gag them. Our cor­re­spon­dent

Weekly Trust - - News - Musa Ab­dul­lahi Kr­ishi Op­po­si­tion

The bill spon­sored by the Deputy House Leader, Rep BubaJib­ril (APC, Kogi), was first in­tro­duced on the floor of the House last year and has since passed the sec­ond read­ing. It is cur­rently be­fore the House Com­mit­tee on Civil So­ci­eties and Donor Agen­cies.

The draft law which seeks to es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion that would reg­u­late the ac­tiv­i­ties of NGOs and Civil So­ci­ety Or­ga­ni­za­tions (CSOs) has since drawn a plethora of crit­i­cisms from dif­fer­ent groups and in­di­vid­u­als.

A close look at the con­tents of the pro­posed law re­vealed that the bill com­pris­ing 58 sec­tions will see to the es­tab­lish­ment of the com­mis­sion to be headed by an ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary and that there will be a gov­ern­ing board with 17 mem­bers to be led by a chair­man.

The ob­jec­tives of the com­mis­sion, the bill says, will be to en­able NGOs and CSOs to ac­com­plish their mis­sion ac­cord­ing to the law, en­sure trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in their op­er­a­tions and su­per­vise them to en­sure that they op­er­ate ac­cord­ing to the law.

The spe­cific func­tions of the com­mis­sion in­clude to fa­cil­i­tate and co­or­di­nate the works of both na­tional and in­ter­na­tional NGOs and CSOs, main­tain a regis­ter for them, their ac­tiv­i­ties and ar­eas of op­er­a­tion, re­ceive and dis­cuss their an­nual re­ports, con­duct a reg­u­lar re­view of the regis­ter to de­ter­mine the con­sis­tency with the re­ports sub­mit­ted and ad­vise gov­ern­ment on their ac­tiv­i­ties.

Other func­tions of the com­mis­sion in­clude to pro­vide pol­icy guide­lines to NGOs for har­mo­niz­ing their ac­tiv­i­ties to the na­tional de­vel­op­ment plan of Nige­ria, re­ceive, dis­cuss and ap­prove the reg­u­lar re­ports of the coun­cil and to ad­vise for ef­fi­cient plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion of ac­tiv­i­ties of NGOs in Nige­ria, re­ceive, dis­cuss and ap­prove the code of con­duct pre­pared by the coun­cil for sel­f­reg­u­la­tion of NGOs and their ac­tiv­i­ties and do­ing all such things in­ci­den­tal to the for­go­ing func­tions.

But the bill has continued to re­ceive bash­ing from al­most all the CSOs and NGOs op­er­at­ing in the coun­try.

A number of them see the move as an at­tempt not only to gag them but also to sub­ject their ac­tiv­i­ties to “un­nec­es­sary bu­reau­cratic bot­tle­necks” when their funds do not come from gov­ern­ment.

But an­a­lysts say that even if the bill passes third read­ing in the House, it could face a se­ri­ous hur­dle at the Se­nate as peo­ple like SenShe­huSani (APC, Kaduna), have al­ready voiced their op­po­si­tion to it.

“The bill on NGOs will re­in­force those with tyran­ni­cal ten­den­cies and fur­ther sti­fle rights to free­dom of speech and assem­bly. I’ll op­pose it,” Sani said in a tweet on his of­fi­cial Twit­ter han­dle on Sun­day.

Fifty four dif­fer­ent na­tional and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions had ear­lier this month in a state­ment ti­tled ‘NGO Reg­u­la­tion Bill: A Grave Dan­ger to Nige­ria’s Democ­racy,’ ad­vised the fed­eral leg­is­la­ture to im­me­di­ately with­draw the bill.

“The on-go­ing at­tempt by the Na­tional Assem­bly to pass a law to con­trol and un­der­mine the op­er­a­tions of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, NGOs, should be con­demned by ev­ery Nige­rian. In the grand scheme, this NGO Bill will cre­ate a gov­ern­ment ap­pa­ra­tus with un­governed dis­cre­tion to de­ter­mine whether an NGO ex­ists or for how long it will op­er­ate based on the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal whims of the day.

“As drafted, it has no place in a democ­racy and is clearly in­tended to en­cour­age the ex­cesses of bad gov­ern­ment. It also vi­o­lates Nige­ria’s con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees of free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion, assem­bly, speech and even of free­dom of con­science and re­li­gion. It will li­cense un­con­sti­tu­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion too.

“NGOs have been in­te­gral to Nige­ria’s democrati­sa­tion. Be­cause of the sac­ri­fices and lead­er­ship of NGOs in con­fronting years of mil­i­tary mis­rule, mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly can have the ben­e­fits and pow­ers they en­joy to­day. In those years, sol­diers branded NGO ac­tivists as antigov­ern­ment or spon­sored by for­eign in­ter­ests to desta­bilise. Thank­fully, th­ese voices re­main ac­tive in Nige­ria to­day in the dif­fi­cult task of keep­ing gov­ern­ment in check.

“The pro­pos­als in this NGO bill sug­gest that Nige­ria’s hon­ourable mem­bers and dis­tin­guished sen­a­tors de­sire to bring back to life all the in­tol­er­ance and high hand­ed­ness of mil­i­tary rule by clamp­ing down on vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions, sti­fling free speech, re­strict­ing other po­lit­i­cal free­doms and dis­hon­our­ing the tremen­dous sac­ri­fices that or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans make to sus­tain their civic life.”

Fol­low­ing the hue and cry over the bill, Speaker YakubuDog­ara on Tues­day dur­ing his wel­come address to the law­mak­ers from their an­nual re­cess, said there was noth­ing to fear.

“Public crit­i­cism of the con­tent of the bill is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment and there are many who are do­ing just that. In­deed, it is the rea­son why ev­ery bill is sub­jected to public hear­ing so that the in­puts of stake­hold­ers can be ob­tained to en­sure public buy in. I has­ten to say that all Nige­ri­ans and other cor­po­rate per­sons in­clud­ing nonNige­ri­ans are stake­hold­ers and have a right to sup­port or op­pose a bill.

“How­ever, when opin­ions are tar­geted at dis­parag­ing the in­sti­tu­tion of the leg­is­la­ture then it be­comes im­per­a­tive to in­ter­ro­gate the mo­tives driv­ing such, es­pe­cially when this em­anates from those who should know.

“Ev­ery­one should un­der­stand that the prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive of the NGO Reg­u­la­tion Bill is to in­ject trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and pre­vent the sub­ver­sion of na­tional se­cu­rity from both within and with­out. No one can or in­deed should gag the op­er­a­tions of NGOs in Nige­ria, but just as they as­pire for this free­dom, it must be stated that free­dom does not come with­out re­spon­si­bil­ity as there is no such thing as free­dom to be ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

Dog­ara also said there were des­per­ate at­tempts to in­sti­gate re­li­gious bod­ies and cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions to op­pose the bill by spread­ing false­hood that they were the tar­get.

“For the avoid­ance of doubt, let me state once again that churches, mosques, es­ussu, mar­ket women as­so­ci­a­tions as well as lo­cal quasi fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions are not NGOs and thus the bill has noth­ing to do with their op­er­a­tions,” he said.

But Auwal Musa Raf­san­jani, the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Civil So­ci­ety Leg­isla­tive Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre (CISLAC), told Daily Trust that CSOs in Nige­ria are not op­posed to trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in their op­er­a­tions.

“As a mat­ter of fact, we sub­ject our­selves to to­tal trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. We have an ex­ist­ing le­gal frame­work which we op­er­ate un­der. Most CSOs are reg­is­tered with CAC, the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and EFCC. They sub­mit reg­u­lar monthly and yearly re­ports to th­ese agen­cies.

“Their donors and part­ners that sup­port them re­ceive reg­u­lar re­ports on how much they have been able to spend or how they carry out their work. So, any­body who thinks CSOs are run­ning away from trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity is miss­ing the point. They’re not like gov­ern­ment agen­cies that col­lect money and spend it with­out be­ing ac­count­able.

“Any CSO that col­lects money with­out proper ac­count risks black­list­ing from donors. Cre­at­ing the agency will be tan­ta­mount to du­pli­ca­tion of func­tions and wast­ing public funds,” he said.

Also in an ar­ti­cle, Prof ChidiOdinkalu, who chairs the Coun­cil of the Sec­tion on Public In­ter­est and De­vel­op­ment Law (SPIDEL) of the Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion (NBA), said, “This bill de­serves to die” for so many rea­sons.

“The bill is stun­ning in its au­dac­ity, far reach­ing in its scope and a dan­ger to elec­tive gov­ern­ment in Nige­ria. It should not be al­lowed to pass.

“First, the bill will gov­ern­men­tal­ize NGOs in Nige­ria. Sec­ondly, it will suf­fo­cate NGOs with ex­po­nen­tial bu­reau­cra­ti­za­tion at a time when of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment pol­icy is to ease trans­ac­tion costs for small en­ti­ties. Thirdly, filled with a cock­tail of whim and caprice, the bill is a boom to of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion.

“Fourthly, it will mil­i­tarise the civic space and make it im­pos­si­ble for any­one who har­bours views dif­fer­ent from those of the gov­ern­ment to or­ga­nize with le­gal pro­tec­tion around those views. Fifthly, the bill in­ter­feres with con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected rights to free­doms of ex­pres­sion, as­so­ci­a­tion and assem­bly in a pro­foundly par­ti­san and im­per­mis­si­ble man­ner.”

But clar­i­fy­ing the in­tend­ment of the bill, its spon­sor BubaJib­ril, said NGOs and CSO are sup­posed to be part­ners in progress with gov­ern­ment, there­fore the need for a com­mis­sion to serve this pur­pose was nec­es­sary.

He said in car­ry­ing out their ac­tiv­i­ties, NGOs and CSOs so­licit for funds from all over the world and col­lect bil­lions of naira on be­half of Nige­ri­ans as well as re­cruit ex­pa­tri­ates to help them run their ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try with lots of abuses.

He ar­gued that re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the North east have shown that some reg­is­tered NGOs so­licited for funds and dis­ap­peared, while other are used to fund the ac­tiv­i­ties of ter­ror­ists and in­sur­gents.

“The NGOs bill, there­fore, is pri­mar­ily to set up a com­mis­sion to reg­u­late their ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­vide a plat­form for ro­bust re­la­tion­ships be­tween them and the gov­ern­ment for the in­ter­ests of Nige­ri­ans.

“The NGOs bill is not new or pe­cu­liar to Nige­ria. It ex­ists in many coun­tries par­tic­u­larly in the ECOWAS sub - re­gion and all over Africa and other con­ti­nents. In Europe, Is­rael passed theirs last year. Kenya has a sim­i­lar law since 1990. Nige­ria is not and should not be a ba­nana re­pub­lic where any­thing goes.”

Al­ready, the So­cio-Eco­nomic Rights and Ac­count­abil­ity Project (SERAP) had in July dragged the House to the United Na­tions, through its spe­cial rap­por­teurs.

The CSO called on the UN to put mean­ing­ful pres­sure on the lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Assem­bly, par­tic­u­larly the Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Mr Yakubu Dog­ara, to im­me­di­ately with­draw the ‘re­pres­sive bill’ to es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion that would mon­i­tor, su­per­vise, de-regis­ter and pre-ap­prove all ac­tiv­i­ties by civil so­ci­ety, labour, com­mu­nity based or­ga­ni­za­tions and the me­dia in the coun­try.

How­ever, the House has vowed to go ahead with the con­sid­er­a­tion of the pro­posal while the CSOs and other Nige­ri­ans con­tinue to voice out their views against it.

Speaker Yakubu Dog­ara

Rep. Buba Jubril

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