by Alexander O. Onukwue
Nigerians have absolutely no interest in the so-called NGO Bill and this is not according to a twitter poll by anti-elite hate-speech handle.
The public hearing organized by the House to assess the merit of the bill turned out to be a fest of apathy and outpour of non perturbare. Groups bearing banners marched to the National Assembly in protest against the Bill, showing the palpable public concern regarding the bill. The legislative arm has been touting the bill, sponsored by Hon Umar Buba Jubril, as being a means for regulating the activities of the non-governmental organisations in the country by the government. But just as there was no belief in that after reading the 30-page document and its various suspicious sections when it was first published, those who were at the hearing saw no neither sense no reason in the Senate’s new proposal.
Chidi Odinkalu, former head of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, has been, from when the Bill became public, a champion for revealing it as the irrelevant instrument of stifling control and limited freedom of speech that it is. At the public hearing, Matthew Hasan Kukah totally supported the rejection of the Bill on the basis that it would not only be irrelevant but that there were already laws in the land taking care of some of the right intentions in the Bill.
The NGO Bill seeks to create a Regulatory Commission to supervise, coordinate and monitor the activities of NGOs and CSOs in the country. The Bill, if passed, will require that all NGOs and CSOs be registered under the Commission and registration could be declined if the Board is “satisfied that its proposed activities or procedures are not in the national interest”. Registration, when granted, must be renewed on a biennial basis or such organisation risks being deleted from the register.
The more bizarre sections of the Bill will place mandates on Civil Society Organisations to:
- submit their project formulations to the Ministries for approval
- seek permission and obtain approval from Ministries concerned with the sector of the country where they operate in order to undertake their projects, and
- provide a 12-point list on the details of the project including how much received for the project, cost of goods, etc.
Criticisms of the NGO Bill have largely pointed to one theme: it is not the legislature’s business to control or regulate non-governmental organisations or civil society organisations. More specifically, the lesgislature should not be intruding into how much is being received by non-governmental organisations in the country but should rather focus on its core duties of representation and oversight of the formal sector. They have hardly told the Nigerian public how much they receive and what they spend their exorbitant allocations on. Demanding “transparency” and “accountability” from unelected groups while operating an opaque public institution appears pretty totalitarian, as Odinkalu has described. Suddenly deciding to legislate on “national interests” without any formal definition of what the term means, after skirting around reports of various Confabs, is disingenuous at least.
What remains for the House to do is to now, in humility, scrap further action on the Bill. Being representatives of the people, they have listened to the people on the matter. The answer is a loud an unequivocal “No”. No need for further deliberations.