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
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