The National Assembly has been urged to ignore and step down the Bill seeking the establishment of a Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Commission to coordinate, supervise and harmonise the activities of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria, otherwise known as the NGO Bill.
The CSOs described the Bill as retrogressive, repressive and unfavourable to national development, adding that it should not be considered by the Legislature and rather left to die. Instead, the groups urged that existing governmental regulatory institutions should be strengthened to perform the role they are already mandated to perform;
The calls formed part of the recommendations and outcomes from a one-day interactive technical roundtable between the National Assembly and the representatives of CSOs on the NGO Bill, held recently in Abuja.
The event, which was organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Civil Society and Development Partners and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), was attended by over 200 delegates from the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and a cross-section of NGOs from all parts of the country.
The meeting was convened with the main objective of bringing legislators, civil society organisations and other stakeholders together to harness broad based inputs into the draft NGO Bill.
Following exhaustive deliberations, CSOs observed that the enactment of the bill and establishment of a commission to regulate the activities of NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria was not necessary for various reasons.
They noted that "It (Bill) will be a duplication of duties by existing governmental agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, National Planning Commission, etc. which are already performing such statutory roles as the registration, supervisions, monitoring of the activities of CSOs and NGOs in Nigeria. Otherwise, all the existing governmental regulatory bodies overseeing the activities of NGOs would need to be dissolved or abrogated.
"It will negatively affect the ability of NGOs and CSOs to function without political interference, which negates the principle of independence of civil society which several international standards recognise and expect countries to respect; the Bill seeks to limit the scope of NGOs and CSOs to work in multiple thematic areas and diversify the sources of accessing resources."
To the participants, the Bill is intended to suppress the voices of CSOs engaged in social development across the country by requiring them to renew their legal identity every 24 months, considering the strategic roles of demanding accountability from government and its officials.
"The Bill as presented, contradicts the spirit of the Executive Order on the Ease of Business as well the Open Government Ppartnership to which Nigeria has acceded. It exposes NGOs to the bureaucratic operations of government which has tendencies of delaying humanitarian responses and other necessary rapid responses in times of emergency by NGOs, which is their trademark", the forum noted.
According to the participants, "There is nowhere in the world where governmental regulation of NGOs has helped to deepen the operations of NGOs; instead it has always muzzled their operations existence; governmental regulation of NGOs is antithetic to open democratic practices anywhere in the world as it appears that the Commission will be become another governmental NGO Police.
"The Bill is in breach of Section 39 of Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria on the right for freedom of association and expression; annual appropriations for critical social sectors are not receiving adequate funding. The setting up of the commission will further stress the financial resources of the country and will become a liability.
"Using NGOs and CSOs to generate IGR will put undue burden on CSOs and NGOs; the acceptance of gifts and properties by the commission from organisations will propagate corruption as contained in the Bill; there is no provision for an independent audit for the commission and no mechanism for mediation and arbitration where NGOs can go for redress", the participants noted in a communiqué jointly signed by some representatives.
They noted with concern that "the presentation of this Bill has been recurrent with each session of the national Assembly and seems to indicate limited knowledge in the operations of CSOs in Nigeria."
They also observed that "the present feeling that NGOs are not well regulated is because of the weakness or inadequacies of existing regulatory agencies of government."
Among other recommendations, the participants advised that rather than create another Commission, the National Assembly should exercise their oversight function to enable the existing governmental agencies to perform their functions.
The government was further urged to create a conducive environment for the operation of NGOs for effective service delivery in the interest of the nation's teeming population.
The participants also unequivocally stated that "this Bill is inconsistent with open democratic practices and therefore should be thrown out without further discussion. We urge the government not to introduce legislations that could jeopardise the work of NGOs, for the greater good of the country, as we would continue to oppose any restriction to what we consider as key indices of a true democratic state."
The communiqué was drafted by Iho Wuese Winifred from the Communication for Development Centre; Augusta Keneboh from Afro Centre for Development, Peace and Justice; Patricia Onoja-Idudu from AWEDP and HALEL Foundation; Oshiniwe Anthonia of the Thews Caregivers Initiative; Joseph Ibekwe of the Foundation for Leadership and Education Development; Emmanuel Terry Yuah from the Sapphire Initiative for Girl Child Literacy and Empowerment; and Uduak Okon of the Youth Alive Foundation (YAF).