[The Activism Blog] The National Assembly is planning to kill NGOs with its ridiculous NGO Regulatory Bill

The House of Representatives is presently considering what might be called ‘the most dangerous piece of legislation’ to come before the National Assembly since 1999 – one more reading left.

The NGO Regulatory Bill sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Umar Buba Jibril is dangerous because it aims to clip the activities of NGOs like a rag spread and forgotten.

The Bill proposes to create an NGO Regulatory Commission, which will be headed by an Executive Secretary appointed by the President for five years and a 17-member Governing Board, led by a Chairman, all of whom shall also be appointed by the President.

The Board will have powers to license all NGOs. Without the license of the Board, no NGO can operate. The license of the NGO Board alone (not registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission) will confer legal personality and perpetual succession on NGOs.

However, such a license must be renewed every 24 months. If not, legal personality is lost.

The Board can refuse renewal for no reason.

It can also capriciously waive all the requirements of the law, including registration.

The Minister (of Interior) can direct the Board at his whim as he deems fit, including, presumably, to register or de-register any NGO.

All NGOs must submit reports to the Board of their money, where they get it from and how much. Before an NGO spends any money received, it must secure the permission of the NGO Board. If it does not, it violates the law.

That’s a crime under the Bill. The Board will also license NGOs on cooperation with international bodies.

The Bill requires NGOs to comply not merely with all laws but also with “all national and foreign policies”, whatever that means.

Any violation of the Bill, when passed into law, is a crime punishable with up to 18 months in prison.

The Board will enjoy substantial immunities under law and from process and any judgement against it cannot be enforced except with the express permission of the serving Attorney-General of the Federation.

The Bill proposes that the Board will also oversee a Voluntary Code of Conduct for NGOs to be adopted by “the first one hundred NGOs to be registered by the Board.” The Code will be operated by a National Council for Voluntary Agencies.

Nigerians are already weary, highlighting the faults of the bill, which apparently seems not to be in the interest of the populace.

Let’s use the example of an Instagram user, @chiomachuka who did a concise analysis of the faults of the bill:

Like this one that intends to cripple #NGO activities in #Nigeria, it’s got only one reading left before:

1. NGO’s have to register with a to-be-constituted commission and get a licence (after registering with CAC),

2. Renew that licence periodically based on the Commission’s discretion.

3. Seek approvals to spend donor funding and in some cases must collaborate with a ministry.

4. Can have their boards dissolved at the Commission’s say so, 

5. Other items intended to effectively silence NGOs, keep them seeking government approval, and gag them from speaking up against evil.

She adds, “This Bill has been presented a few times before now without success.”

Also in reaction, Prof Chidi Odinkalu who Chairs the Council of the Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) highlights seven deficiencies of the bill:

First, the Bill will governmentalize NGOs in Nigeria.

Second, it will suffocate NGOs with exponential bureaucratization at a time when official government policy is to ease transaction costs for small entities.

Third, filled with a cocktail of whim and caprice, the bill is a boon to official corruption.

Fourth, it will militarise the civic space and make it impossible for anyone who harbours views different from those of the government to organize with legal protection around those views.

Fifth, the bill interferes with constitutionally protected rights to freedoms of expression, association and assembly in a profoundly partisan and impermissible manner.

When he introduced the Bill in 2016, Deputy Majority Leader, Jibril, claimed that there was no existing framework “to supervise the mode of operations” of NGOs.

This was deliberately misleading, wrong and inaccurate. It is plainly obtuse.

This adds a sixth to the problems with the Bill – overreach. With no hint of modesty, the Bill proposes to eviscerate the responsibilities of multiple Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), including the National Planning Commission; Corporate Affairs Commission; Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS); Customs Service; Immigration service; EFCC; National Planning Commission and even the National emergency Management Agency.

Above all, at a time of poor public finances, it seeks to create yet another pointless parastatal and add to government overheads.

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