Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory (NGO) Bill: A Threat to Civil Liberty?

Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory (NGO) Bill: A Threat to Civil Liberty?

Author ~ Bekeme Masade-Olowola

“Deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of our democracy”, says the American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson. As very important components of this ‘soul of our democracy’, civil society groups have played a vital role in deliberations and debates that have expanded our citizen rights, justice, liberty and the abolition of certain harmful socio-cultural practices that hamper human rights and personal dignity. But the “Establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory (Establishment, ETC,) Commission” bill which is on its way to becoming an act of the National Assembly, having passed its first and second readings since July 14, 2016, without participatory consultation of Nigerians, has raised a question: Where is the soul of Nigeria’s democracy and civil liberty?

The bill was introduced by Hon. Umar Buba Jibril, the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, and is titled: “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of a Non-Governmental Organisation Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), etc. in Nigeria and for Related Matters”. One of the objectives of the bill is to “ensure the transparency and accountability of Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies”, to address the allegations by Hon. Jibril that “some NGOs collected funds for North East IDPs and disappeared”.

What Does the NGO Regulatory Bill Mean?

In summary, the proposed controversial bill seeks to establish a federal regulatory commission responsible for the supervision, co-ordination and monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations, and Community Based Organisations in Nigeria. The function of the proposed commission is to include the issuing of licenses to all NGOs, which will be subject to renewal every two years. Proponents of the bill state that the bill primary aim is making CSOs more transparent and accountable.

To be fair, what with all of the impassioned work being done by some non-profits and other civil society groups in the nation, there have been challenges with transparency an accountability with many members of these groups. Many affliated to the political elite who propose to regulate the sector are nothing but ‘legal’ money-laundering machines.

Notwithstanding, to many people, Nigeria is already equipped with enough laws and regulatory authorities such as Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Central Bank of Nigeria, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and Corporate Affairs Commission – including a number of other laws such as the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act, 2013 and the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) –  to investigate and bring errant CSOs and their promoters to book.

By implication, however, where a renewal process fails or is declined by the proposed commission, the NGO ceases to exist. The bill will also mandate NGOs to seek the permission of the commission before any money received from donors is spent, and failure to abide by the law, becomes a criminal action which attracts a fine of N500,000 or jail term of up to 18 months.

Commentators believe that the bill is reminiscent of authoritarianism, and anti-democratic tendencies. In Senator Shehu Sani’s words, “The bill on NGOs will reinforce those with tyrannical tendencies and further stifle rights to freedom of speech and assembly. I’ll oppose it”. Some people fear that, if adopted, the bill can strip off the status of perpetual succession and corporate (legal) personality acquired by the NGO through their registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission; as the bill proposes to subject NGOs to fresh registration every two years. This means that continuation of a corporation’s existence will no longer depend on the death, bankruptcy or insanity of any its owners, but will depend on the reregistration of the corporation every 2 years. In its entirety, this attempt contradicts and violates the whole concepts of legal personality and perpetual succession in Nigeria.

Human Rights, Nigerian Laws

First things first, Nigeria is a country of many kinds of non-profit organisations, both at grassroots and urban levels. We are a people who like to commune and be independent of choice as we do so. In accordance with several treaties and conventions to which Nigeria is signatory, such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (domesticated as Cap. 10, LFN. 1990); with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, formal and informal (registered and unregistered) non-profit groups are granted legal status to carry out their typically selfless services to humanity.

The main laws that relate to CSOs are found in federal legislation, and guarantee freedom of association, put no restriction on those who wish to come together for any kind of purpose, provided that the purposes for which the group is formed, or the methods that it uses are not themselves illegal.

However, NGOs that wish to enjoy the benefits of having legal status, such as to interact at the official level and to seek funding easily from donors, can obtain that voluntarily through registration or incorporation under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Cap. C20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. In this case, members, directors or trustees are able to represent the organisation, and the NGO can open a bank account in the name of the organization, or sign contracts in the name of the organisation.

By implication, any regulation of NGO activities will be widely viewed as repugnant to every good conscience, inconsistent to the Nigerian constitution, and of great threat to our dear inestimable democracy.

A Final Word

Unfortunately, what I see are the major challenges that could have been averted. One of the problems that we’ve had as country is the inability of our government to speak to us, get our buy-in. Our lawmakers and implementators are yet to understand the power of engagement for citizen concession and even promotion.

Secondly, it is apparent that the major challenge which the bill is designed to address is not a lack of law, but a lack of will or resources to implement; depending on the agency which is in to promote accountability

Lastly, would it be too much to expect donors to do some level of due diligence before awarding grants? Donors have a duty of care – to their beneficiaries and funders – to ensure that there is some level of trust and pedigree for the potential or approved grantee.

Do you oppose the bill? Do something then; sign a petition, be sure to attend the Senate hearing, and speak out on any channel available to you.

  

Retrospect

  1. Sand Dredging in Nigeria’s Waterways: Between the Economic Boom and Environmental Doom (Sep 2nd, 2017)
  2. Towards the Bleak Future of Crude Oil: What Nigeria Should Do Now, Bekeme Masade-Olowola (Aug 12th, 2017)
  3. The Reality of Nigeria’s Recession Exit: Between GDP Growth and Sustainable Development. (September 16, 2017)

 

Reference:
  1. A Bill to Establish Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Regulatory Commission Passes Second Reading in the House. Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, July 14, 2016
  2. Civic Freedom Monitor: Nigeria. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), 9 June 2017
  3. Democracy Quotes Jesse Jackson, Brainy Quote
  4. DOWNLOAD: The NGO Regulatory Commission of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill, 2016. Nasir Ayitogo The Premium Times, September 25, 2017
  1. Hari Srinivas
  2. Legal Information Institute. First Amendment
  3. More Voices Rise Against Proposed NGO Regulation Bill. Mabel Dimma, Business Day Newspapers, September 24TH, 2017
  4. No to NGO Regulation Bill. Vanguard Newspapers September 15, 2017
  5. Senator, other Nigerians Condemn NGO Regulatory Bill. Nasir Ayitogo, Premium Times, September 24, 2017
  6. The NGO Regulatory Bill. Chris Akiri, Guardian Newspapers, 11 September 2017
  7. The Proposed NGO Regulation Bill #NoNGOBillNG. Adedunmade Onibokun, 2017 The Legalnaija Blawg.
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