Udora Orizu in Abuja
The House of Representatives at the plenary yesterday stepped down a bill seeking to regulate the activities of Civil Society Organisations (CSO).
The bill, which is titled “A Bill for an Act to Establish Civil Societies Regulatory Commission for Coordinated Regulation of Civil Society Organisations for the Purposes of Strengthening their Capacities to Promote Democracy and Development in the Country; and for Related Matters (HB.722),” was sponsored by Hon. Abbas Tajudeen.
The bill was opposed by several lawmakers immediately after its presentation.
Hon. Salam Bamidele, who was the first legislator to oppose the bill, cited Sections 38 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Bamidele stated that the passage of the bill would be a threat to the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and free assembly.
He said the proposed civil society regulatory commission is an attempt to muzzle free speech and subject the CSOs to needless monitoring, which would be against the spirit of the 1999 constitution.
According to him, “the parliament is the bastion of democracy and supposed to protect the citizens’ rights and promote civil liberty. There are enough laws to regulate activities of all organisations such as the Corporate and Allied Matters Act. It is also not efficient at a time like this to duplicate agencies and commissions when we should rather be cutting down on cost of governance.”
Responding, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, drew his attention to section 45 of the constitution, saying that the provisions he cited were not independently absolute.
Gbajabiamila opined that the gray areas would be taken care of at the committee stage during public hearing where the lawmakers would weigh the merits and demerits of the bill.
According to Hon. Nkem Abonta, who also opposed the bill, argued that the constitution was the grundnorm and should not be tampered with.
Abonta added that there were already enough laws to checkmate the excesses of the CSOs.
Similarly, Hon. Julius Ihonvbere said the passage of the bill would be unnecessary as it would gag the civil society organisations.
The bill was later stepped down by its sponsor, Tajudeen.