Civil Society Groups, Other Stakeholders Oppose NGO Regulatory Bill Amid Protests

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• Dogara commends civil society for aiding growth of democracy

James Emejo in Abuj a

Almost all representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) wednesday vehemently denounced the proposed establishment of a regulatory commission for supervision, co-ordination and supervision of the groups’ activities in the country.

Making their submissions at a two-day public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Civil Society Organisations and Development Partners, the civil society groups were unanimous in their opposition to the objectives of the regulatory commission arguing that the legislation would stifle growth and development of the country.

The infamous NGO regulatory commission bill seeks among other things to establish a body responsible for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society/ Organisations in Nigeria, with the aim of enabling them to accomplish their various missions in a transparent manner and be accountable.

But all of the stakeholders rejected the passage of the bill, arguing that it will tamper with the rights of the people and mar the good works of the groups by causing inefficiency.
This coincided with a protest which was restricted to the outer gate of the National Assembly even as hearing on the bill was ongoing.

The protest was led by a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu.
However, the bill which was sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader, Buba Jubril, was overwhelmingly opposed by stakeholders who took turns to literarily tear it to shreds.

Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Revend Matthew Kukah, who spoke for Kukah Foundation, said lawmakers should take the aggregate of the opinion of the stakeholders to know where the people’s decision lie, stressing that was in support of the civil society.

He said: “We have other institutions that are not functioning. We should focus more on how to generate the energy on your people,” adding that lawmakers should engage in more serious legislative activities.

The Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Clem Nwankwo, said: “ The bill has several worrying aspects. It fails to acknowledge the existing egalitarian refi,e under which NGOs operate including constitutional provisions under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as part C (Incorporated Trustees) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA)
“The bill grants unquestionable powers to the executive arm of government to restrain, constrain and limit non- governmental initiatives and charitable efforts in Nigeria.

“There is no doubt that the first victims of the bill would be the NGOs that are traditionally active in the area of ensuring accountability and transparency of government to its citizens, particularly in the area of human rights, rule of law, governance and management of state resources.”
Executive Secretary, Sensor Empowerment Foundation, Jonathan Ichaver, said the passage of the bill in its current state and with its requirement that MGOs obtain written permission before being able to intervene in disasters would cause unnecessary delays which would result in the death of thousands of citizen in emergency situations.

In the same vein, President of Empower 54, Modupe Ozolua, in her submission, said she had no problem with the registration of NGOs and CSOs in the country for the purpose of having a database, but the aspect of the bill which states that organisation must have a projection of projects for the year was not feasible because of a dearth of funds.

She also expressed worry a proposed regulatory requirement that NGO’s assets be declared to the commission.

Amnesty International representative, Ossai Ojigho, said the NGO bill threatens freedom in the country pointing out that sections 11,13 and 24 of the proposed legislation attempt to muzzle organisations and tell them how they must run their business.

He said: “States are adopting laws and policies under the guise of transparency and accountability that seeks to exert control over civil society thereby limiting their ability to work.”

Also, Mr. Adetokumbo Mumuni and Dr. Abiola-Akiyode Afolabi of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) had insisted that the bill should not see the light of the day as it will adversely limit these NGOs from performing their humanitarian services.

He argued that what the proposed law seeks to achieve is already covered by existing statutes and added it is antithetical to democratic norms and practices.

Similarly, a representative of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning Mr. Samuel Eloho, said the ministry is not in support of the bill because it is a duplication of function of an already existing government agency.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has hailed civil societies and non-governmental organisations for the important role they play in development of democracy and promotion of the well-being of Nigerian citizens.

Speaking at the opening of the public hearing, he urged the public not to be apprehensive of opinion made in the House during debates on any bill, saying they will always have their day at a forum such as the public hearing to make their imput.

Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has urged Dogara to immediately drop the draft bill, saying it threatens the very existence of a free and independent civil society in Nigeria.

Falana said ahead of the public hearing: “This is perhaps the worst piece of legislation in Nigeria’s history. Under the bill, any civil society group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance can be shut down and criminalised. The bill if passed will ultimately have a disastrous impact on Nigerian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their own country.”

He said: “I urge Speaker Dogara to reject entirely the bill as it falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, in particular Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party”