Regulating NGOs or silencing dissenting voices?
There is currently before the House of Representative a bill which seeks to establish yet another federal agency that will be responsible for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of Non-Government Organisations and Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria. According to the bill, sponsored by Umar Buba Jibril, Deputy Minority Leader, an All Progressive Congress lawmaker from Kogi state, the agency will issue licences to all NGOs, which will require renewing every two years. Without such license, no NGO can operate and the agency could refuse renewal for no reason. What is more, only the license of the agency (not registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission) confers legal personality and perpetual succession on NGOs.
The board of the agency can also capriciously waive all the requirements of the law, including registration. More outrageously, the minister of Interior will be empowered to direct the board as he deems fit, including, presumably, to register or deregister any NGO. The bill also requires all NGOs to submit reports to the agency of their money, where they get them from and how much. All NGOs must also receive permission of the board before spending their monies. The agency is also planned to enjoy special immunity under the law and from process such that any judgement against it cannot be enforced except with the express permission of the attorney general of the federation.
The bill, which was introduced since June 2016, has passed second reading and is at the committee stage. This bill mimics another one – the anti-social media bill sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC Kebbi South), which failed to fly despite the many attempts of the Senate and the Presidency. Although the bill was defeated, many social media activists are routinely being persecuted and jailed all over the country.
Despite the spirited opposition against this obnoxious bill that seeks to silence all dissenting voices, the House of Representatives has insisted on pushing on with the bill because, according to the sponsor of the bill, the House wants to “ensure transparency and accountability in the ways and manners the NGOs collect moneys and use them for Nigerians.”
But even if we are to assume there are no ulterior motives behind the move, the proposed bill immodestly seeks to eviscerate the responsibilities of several government agencies and departments like the Corporate Affairs Commission, the EFCC, the National Planning Commission, Federal Inland Tax Revenue Service, Customs & Immigration, etc. Besides, at a time of dwindling revenues and cost cutting measures, the House is seeking to create another irrelevant parastatal that will only duplicate the work of other agencies.
But the intention behind the bill cannot be disguised. As Senator Shehu Sani rightly said, it will only “reinforce those with tyrannical tendencies and further stifle rights to freedom of speech and assembly.” If an administration also notorious for its intolerance of opposing views gets it way with the bill, then Nigeria will finally become a proper police state. We must not allow this.
We call on Nigerians, civil society and human rights groups to intensify campaigns and opposition to the obnoxious bill, which in all intents and purposes, reminiscences the ill-famed “Decree 4” of 1984. We must not allow the government gag the press, divergent views and all oppositions. We also call on the House of Representative to throw out the bill forthwith to demonstrate its determination to stand with the Nigerian people.
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