Aug 2, 2017

The Proposed NGO Regulation Bill #NoNGOBillNG | Adedunmade Onibokun

“A dynamic and autonomous civil society, able to operate freely, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for building a healthy society, and one of the key bridges between governments and their people. It is therefore crucial that NGOs are able to function properly in countries in transition, as well as in established democracies,”

Navi Pillay
High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations

Over the past few months, there has been national uproar over a very controversial Bill currently being debated by the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives. Not only has this Bill been denounced by Civil Society and other well-meaning Nigerians. The existence of the Bill in itself is proof of the intention of federal lawmakers to silence dissent and crush the activities of Civil Society that may seek to differ from Governmental agenda.

Below are vital portions of the proposed Bill which should get the attention of all Nigerians and the international community with a view to forever silencing the Bill and raise our voices against this Bill of the National Assembly which seeks to deprive Nigerians of the right to hold government accountable.  

The Bill which is described as an act to provide for the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the supervision, co-ordination and monitoring of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria is sponsored by Hon. Umar Buba Jubril from Kogi State.

According to Section 7 of the proposed Bill, the objectives of the commission includes –

a.     To enable the transparency and accountability of the operations of Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies to accomplish their missions according to the law.

b.    To ensure the transparency and accountability of the operations of NGOs and Civil Society.

c.      To supervise NGOs and Civil Societies to ensure that they operate according to the law.

Furthermore, Section 8 of the proposed Bill further provides for the functions of the Commission to include –

a.      To facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and international NGOs operating in Nigeria.

b.     To maintain the register of national  and international NGOs operating in Nigeria, with the precise sectors, affiliations and locations of their activities;

c.       To receive and discuss the annual reports of the NGOs

d.      To advise the Government on the activities of the NGOs and their role in development within Nigeria;

e.      To conduct a regular review of the register to determine the consistency with the reports submitted by the NGOs and the council;

f.       To provide policy guidelines to the NGOs for harmonizing their activities to the national development plan for Nigeria;

g.     To receive, discuss and approve  the regular reports of the council and to advise on strategies for efficient planning and co-ordination of the activities of the NGOs in Nigeria;

h.     To receive, discuss and approve the code of conduct prepared by the Council for self-regulation of the NGOs and activities in Nigeria; and

i.       Doing all such things incidental to the foregoing functions which in the opinion of the Board are calculated to facilitate the carrying on of the duties of the Commission under this Act.

The proposed Bill not only seeks to stifle dissent but it also proposes to duplicate the functions being served by other existing legislations. Such legislation includes the 1999 Constitution; Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) of 2004; Companies Income Tax Act (CITA) of 2004; Value Added Tax Act of 1993; FIRS Act; Personal Income Tax Act of 2011 etc. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to create a commission whose establishment will lead to an increase in government overhead, at a time when the government is currently spending N165 billion monthly on salaries of federal civil servants.

The Bill states in Section 11 that all NGOs shall be registered and shall among other things state their sources of funding; location of their activities; average annual budget; national and international affiliations and any other information as may be prescribed.  However, all NGOs are already registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission and granted legal personalities under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).  The Bill also empowers the Commission to exempt any NGOs it deems fit from registering. This will allow government to immediately withdraw the registration of any NGO that dissents or objects to government actions or policies in any way.

Furthermore, any NGO which is not registered under the Commission, shall be unable to operate in Nigeria, despite having attained legal status under the law. Registration of which must be renewed every 24 (Twenty-Four) Months and can be denied if seen to be against national interests or terms and conditions for certification varied.The Commission shall also review and approve work permits for staffs of NGOs.

The proponents of the Bill argue that the requirement for CAC registration is not sufficient for NGOs but this argument is similar to stating that all companies in Nigeria must be registered by another government agency for the purposes of monitoring. It is also claimed that the aim of the Bill is to ensure NGOS who receive donations, do not abuse the funds collected in order not to soil the image of the country. The Commission shall also issue a Code of Conduct to regulate the funding and foreign affiliations of NGOs.

Clearly the true intention of the Bill is to stifle the voice of Civil Society and it should not see the light of day. Civil society is the conscience of a country and must not silenced.   

Adedunmade Onibokun