Abuja — The Catholic Church yesterday took a swipe at the proposed Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) bill pending before the House of Representatives, accusing the legislators of pursuing only selfish ends.
The Executive Director, Caritas Nigeria, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Rev. Fr Evaristus Bassey, said the bill was disingenuous in many respects.
He said: "Caritas Nigeria and JDPC are organs of relief and development on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and are registered as Incorporated Trustees under the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria.
"Caritas Nigeria and JDPC observe that most Catholic Dioceses and Archdioceses and Christian Churches that are registered in Nigeria under the CAC are registered as Incorporated Trustees and therefore fall under the NGO categorization; therefore unless a separate categorisation is established for religious organisations, by law they are seen as incorporated Trustees and therefore as NGOs."
Bassey argued that "Caritas Nigeria and JDPC have refrained from making any public statements hitherto because in the spirit of collaboration, we have been working with the House Committee on NGOs and Development Partners to come up with a legal framework that was mutually acceptable. Caritas Nigeria and JDPC have attended public hearings in the past on similar bills on the control NGOs, which did not see the light of the day as Acts of Parliament.
"Caritas Nigeria and JDPC are now constrained to make public its position based on the groundswell of public opinion and condemnations that have greeted the new NGO bill as presented by the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
"We would like to state as follows:
Caritas Nigeria and JDPC have raised issues during interactive sessions with the Hon. Speaker organised by Situation Room on why there have been not less than eight attempts on the floor of the House to control NGOs instead of providing public financial support to NGOs as is done in many nations of the world.
"To this end, Caritas Nigeria and JDPC and other NGOs would only accept an NGO Bill that would guarantee public financial support especially to humanitarian NGOs without compromising the independence of the NGOs."
He added that Caritas Nigeria and JDPC appreciate the need for members of the House to be acknowledged by their constituencies as having put forward a bill for consideration.
"However this should not be at the expense of the reputation of the entire House; presently the National Assembly is perceived as a cesspool of corruption, and such bills that seem to put the House on a face-off with citizens only portray the House as intent on protecting a 'Lootocracy' that should not be questioned, hence the intent on muzzling NGOs.
"This bill is not in the interest of the House itself. Caritas Nigeria and JDPC advise more collaboration between House Committees and the leadership; for as the majority leader, Hon. Umar Jubril should have been aware of efforts between the House Committee on NGOs and Development Partners and CSOs, including Caritas Nigeria and JDPC."
Bassey observed that "Hon. Jubril's disruptive effort is highly suspicious, especially against the backdrop of such security threats as the herdsmen attacks which are being seen as part of a sinister agenda of domination.
"Knowing fully well that his religion demands him to use his position to promote and protect religion, is this Hon. Umar's subtle way of promoting and protecting his religion by setting up a framework in which others might be persecuted?" he asked.
The Catholic Church further advised that "in the light of all the deep concerns expressed by well meaning citizens, the National Assembly dropped all attempts to legislate on NGOs and allow NGOs originate such legislation themselves as private member's bill.
"It should be noted that, while we may have a few bad eggs among the NGOs, the main concern of all arms of government should be how to change the perception of Nigerians about government as ineffective, corrupt, wasteful and lacking of vision.
"Now that Hon. Umar Jubil has made a name for himself, he should withdraw the bill and stop adding fuel to an already heated polity. The bill should not move further than it has reached already.
"Caritas Nigeria and JDPC urge all NGOs that employ staff to collect and remit PAYE of their staff to their various States Revenue services, make the mandatory annual returns to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) after their annual audits, and get the SCUML certification from EFCC as required, especially if they receive foreign funding, as we believe rightly that there are already enough regulatory frameworks on ground to make superfluous any self-seeking piece of legislation," Bassey stressed.