Nigeria: Why I Want Nigerian Govt to 'Regulate' NGOs - Lawmaker


"It is the right of the government to know the source of their (NGOs) funding to operate in its country," the lawmaker says, as part of the reasons for his bill.

Sada Soli, the lawmaker representing Jibia/Kaita Federal Constituency of Katsina State in the House of Representatives, spoke with PREMIUM TIMES' Bakare Majeed on his controversial bill to regulate NGOs. Although the government through agencies like the Corporate Affairs Commission already does some regulation of NGOs, Mr Soli believes no regulation is being done. He also spoke on other issues including the CBN Act and the food crisis in the country.

PT: You are sponsoring the bill proposing regulation of NGOs but there are genuine concerns over this bill such as abuse by the government and trampling on rights. What is the intent behind this bill?

Soli: There's no doubt about it, nobody can doubt about the functions of the NGOs in the world space talk less of Nigeria. But what we are talking about- we need some sort of agency that will help in coordinating their activities and managing them, not to gag them but to oversee the

affairs of the NGOs in order to facilitate, and coordinate the work of the NGOs and then maintain a national register, which we don't have. And also to advise the government on the activities of non-governmental organisations and their roles in development within Nigeria. The government needs to know what they are doing, needs to have a record (and) needs to register what they are doing. Because in the end, if something happens it is the government that will be held responsible, not the NGOs, for whatever reason. The agency will conduct a regular review of the register to determine the consistency in the report submitted to the agency by the NGOs. You know they should report to the government or the agency what they do and the activities they have covered. What they have rendered in whatever society they are working. At the end of the day, they have to render a report and they (the agency) can see the legitimacy of the report. Above all, accountability to the government and the general public is one of the rules of the NGOs. This bill is trying to help the NGOs, the good ones, and protect them. Actually, to inform the general public that these

organisations are coming here to help you for the betterment of yourself and the country. I think that is basically all about it. It is not to regulate them or gag them, no. but there is a need for that thing.

PT: There is the question around trust. There is a trust gap between the government and the citizens, including civil societies. The NGOs have gone through several struggles, from colonial masters to military and civilian governments, so the concern against this bill is legitimate. They worry that this bill may have good intentions but is equally open to abuse.

Soli: That's not the issue. They are coming with the mindset. Those looking at the bill with some motive and mindset should come with a clean heart. Why should an NGO or CSO come with a mindset on something that will improve its activities? Are all the NGOs agitators? Are all the NGOs civil rights guys? No. There are those in the humanitarian aspect, there are those in education and health space, and there are those in how to make people behave, help to cross the road and obey the traffic rules. There are vast areas in which the NGOs operate. Humanitarian, you know, civil in

their activities within the ecosystem of the country. I don't think people should come with the mindset that they oppose the bill because they don't trust the government. Even on the (proposed) board of those agencies, five of the board members are from the NGOs - they have the highest membership of the board. On the board, we have the ministries of Interior and finance and the Office of the National Security Adviser. Because these are areas of government organisation they deal with. We don't have an articulated register that we can say today, for sure, I know you, you are a legitimate NGO. I know where you get money to perform your activities in Nigeria. It is the right of the government to know the source of their (NGOs) funding to operate in its country. It is the right of the government.

PT: Did you consult with the members of the CSOs and NGOs on some of the issues you have raised - getting their input on a law that has consequences on their operations?

Soli: The National Assembly will engage them when the bill goes to a second reading. It has not gone to the public yet. This is a draft bill that will go through the normal process of legislation, then we subject it to a national debate. Remember there is this provision in the code of ethics and conduct of the NGO which was written by the World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, which insist that NGOs must operate within the laws of the nation they work. So it's not new. In the US, there are 1.4 million NGOs that are governed by laws. Same in Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania and the list goes on. In England and Wales, in 2008, they had this demonstration legislation on NGOs - that is the Charity Act. It's not meant to gag them but to enhance and facilitate their job. The NGOs in Nigeria, I can tell you, are in disarray, none of them knows who is who. Even you, I believe some of you are complaining about the genuity of some of the NGOs operating in this country.

PT: Of course, there are issues of some NGOs with ethics. Let us talk about faith-based NGOs. Some of your colleagues have raised concerns. Does the bill address this?

Soli: That is true. There was the issue of the religious aspect of the NGO, faith-based NGO. We know some religious groups like the churches, mosques, or the Christian side or Islamic side, all have NGOs. There are more NGOs in Islam than we have in Christianity because of the amplification of charity in Islam. But we are not against them. Even with that, the law should not ignore that. Because I can tell you there are numbers of NGOs that come through religion and then they become inimical to national security. There were recent issues in Borno where there is Complete Care Aid Foundation, a non-governmental organisation which is at large, which was involved with this Mama Boko Haram who was jailed for 10 years for fraud and that NGO was involved. But who is talking?

Even among the NGOs, you don't have an umbrella. You don't have a coordinating body that will organise you to speak with one voice. Today, I can tell you that nobody will say this is the number of NGOs operating in Nigeria. Nigeria is a big country. How can you - because you are an NGO, you source for funding from somewhere then you say your operating country should not know where you are getting the money? Now this agency is not there to ask them about the money but to strengthen accountability. Even to those donor agencies funding you. You should provide accountability to the public, to the government and to those giving you the money. I can tell you for sure there are one-person NGOs, and one-room apartment NGOs in this country. Only when there is a crisis then they go around, or go to motor parks to hire people and give them placards and say they are civil society. That is not the way we want them to operate. We want them to operate in the most organised manner and friendly atmosphere and then NGOs cannot be subjected to being used by anybody. That's the purpose of this bill.

PT: Would you sit down with these NGOs on this, and secondly, are there parts of the bill on the deregistration of NGO platforms? This is because we have seen instances where the government hides behind national security to commit abuses.

Soli: Let me be honest with you. Why won't you be deregistered if you don't meet up with the requirements of the NGO? Why won't you be deregistered if you don't abide by the rules and code of ethics of things you are sworn to do? If you engage in fraud, criminal activities, or inimical activities that are against the national security of the country, why won't you be deregistered?

PT: Are you not concerned about abuse by the government?

Soli: Which government? How can abuse happen when there is a law? Go to court. That is why the law is there. The court will listen to you. 'You deregistered me because of this'. The NGO should have a clean mind. They operate with the government. How many of them are friendly to the

government? Many of them. Then why are they afraid of the government? After all, they are on the board. Five members of them are on the board. Many of them have the highest membership share. Perhaps the person to be appointed to lead this agency must have experience in civil society organisations and NGOs. So in the end, it must be an NGO to drive it.

PT: Who is going to appoint the board members?

Soli: Of course, the president. But he will not do things that will jeopardise the interest, the responsibility and the help the NGOs render to this country. We know the NGOs are doing great but let me be honest with you, I cherish and applaud what they do in this country. What is wrong with having a law that will make your job easier, perfect and acceptable to the community that you are doing this job? Remember, there are NGOs that you just open your eyes in one village and you will see their tanks, but the LGA chairman doesn't know, the governor doesn't know, the councillor doesn't know. And they will go and gather communities. These are some of the issues because there is no proper coordination. Why should people run away from regulation? The aviation industry is regulated, and the construction industry is regulated. Our traffic rules are regulated. Can the Road Safety Commission come and say they will allow you to drive a car without a license? They have to regulate drivers. That is why you have to go for testing. They have to test your eyes to know if your sight is good. They have to test your hearing to know if you can hear very well. They have to know if you are of sound mind before you are given a license. These are all regulations. Will people come tomorrow and say they don't like road safety or the VIOs? Because you have a mindset against them? Because of your intention of driving without a license? No! That's regulation.

PT: Let's move to other issues, I know you are big on CBN, but what's the status of the bill seeking to bar serving CBN governors and deputies from contesting elections?

Soli: The bill is coming back and waiting for a second reading. By the grace of God, probably in the next one or two weeks, it should be rescheduled for a second reading. It is a bill trying to strengthen the CBN. We are just adding some conditions disqualifying the governor and deputy governors and the directors of the CBN simply because of what happened with the previous CBN governor, who attempted to go to court for them to interpret the CBN Act whether he could run for election. That act in itself compromised the CBN and because it had happened, the law of the CBN proved inadequate and that is the beauty of the Parliament. When they see a gap in the law where it will give an advantage to an individual against a country or against a society, the National Assembly comes in and amends that law so that the organisation will discharge its responsibility in accordance with the law. That's why I proposed the amendment of section 11 subsection 2 of the CBN Act, to add more disqualification elements where a governor, deputy governor or director of the CBN becomes partisan or a card-carrying member of a political party, it automatically disqualifies him to hold those offices. Because their actions can weaken the confidence in the CBN and the institution they represent. It will also dampen the effectiveness of their policies. We have seen that in the previous era - when the CBN governor attempted to contest for the presidency of this country. It completely questions the authority of the CBN and it has shaken the market. The monetary policy was not trusted. People didn't trust CBN anymore. A lot of speculation was all over the country and you can see what it led to in the end. We were caught up in the naira redesign and cashless policy. All these are the impact of his denial to contest for the president of this country.

Thinking of these gaps, that's why I brought up these amendments.

PT: Will this law be a requirement during the screening of a nominee for the CBN governor?

Soli: No, the law cannot be retrospective. This is the law that is for

the future. You can't have a law to operate retrospectively.

PT: Not for the current CBN Governor, I mean in the future. I am talking about screening out a partisan CBN Governor at the stage of senate screening.

Soli: *Everybody knows he (Yemi Cardoso) is an investment banker.

PT: Not the incumbent, subsequent CBN bosses?

Soli: This law is meant for the future to guard it and to protect the apex bank.

PT: So the Senate can screen out someone for being a card-carrying member of a political party?

Soli: Absolutely, that is disqualification. Already, the existing Act has some disqualification items but we are adding some of the items for disqualification. If you are a card-carrying member of a political party or partisan, you cannot be appointed to the office of the CBN governor, deputy or director of the CBN.

PT: That is serious. Do you think this law would get the support of the House and the Senate?

Soli: It will get the support because it has been attempting to behave the same way, threatening the CBN. Everybody knows that the CBN lost its credibility during Emefiele's era because it was political.

PT: How much responsibility do you think the National Assembly needs to bear in Emefiele's saga? Because the lawmakers failed to do their oversight function.

Soli: I can't absolve the National Assembly but now it's history because we have moved to the next step. So, I can assure you the current National Assembly would not allow this kind of rascality to happen again.

PT: What's your take on the current CBN Governor?

Soli: I have my sympathy for the CBN governor because of the quagmire he found himself in and the mess he met in the CBN. He is just in the process of cleaning up some of the monetary policy damage that happened in the previous administration of the CBN. It's not a small job. It's a big

job. This man, let me be honest with you - I am sure he's having short sleeping hours to turn round the economy and monetary policy so that the currency is stabilised and the economy is stabilised. To also ensure price control and then to see that inflation is brought down. It's not an easy job. I have to be honest with you. What he met on his plate is quite a lot. He has to use a big knife and big cutlery in order to dissect what is on his plate, get the bones out of the flesh and see how to fix those things that have gone wrong. I am sure he will succeed by the grace of God.

PT: You talked about inflation, but we think it is a cost of living crisis fuelled by the food crisis the country is facing. Is there an end to this crisis?

Soli: You see, Nigeria is not in isolation of what is going on. It's all about inflation and then our case is peculiar. When we are used to something - the fuel subsidy - now people know the positive impact of the fuel subsidy. It is the withdrawal of this fuel subsidy that exposed the country to this food insecurity. But the issue is, let me be honest with you, there's food in this country. There's no market where you will go without food but the problem is the purchasing power that is eroded. That is why the government - the federal, state and local governments - have to come up with intervention policies that will uplift the purchasing power of the people to contend with the inflation that is going on. There is food but people lack the money to buy the food. And even if they have the money, it is not enough because the cost of that food is high. Our marketers and producers also need to have some fear of God by lessening the prices so the average man can have some reprieve, and take food to the table. But it affects everybody. Everybody has to come together and put their heads together to see that some of these issues are alleviated. Yes, there are resolutions here and there but some people feel that they don't make a lot of impact, but they do. We know because of our resolutions some government policies are introduced. They make impact though it is not much and because of the enormous negative impact of this inflation that is going on. Yes, fuel subsidy policy is another matter but the government had to make that decision in order to find ourselves where we are. I urge the state and local government to do more. They are doing a lot to feed people. The federal government is doing its own but we encourage them to do more in terms of feeding people. I advise the state government to open food banks in every local government. Just give people food.

PT: Would that not create a disincentive? Why would people work if their meal is guaranteed?

Soli: No, it would not create disincentive. All serious countries around the world have food banks for crisis periods. Americans call it shelter. If you go to shelters, they will give you food. During the COVID ,food banks opened in so many places. People can go and get food because people could not get food. They opened food banks, where cooked food was given. Different tables with different menus for people to pick. It's not impossible. State governments are giving raw food now. So it's another way of providing food banks.

PT: Many have argued that those palliatives are entrenching poverty.

Soli: In Nigeria, we call it palliative. I think we should move away from palliative, just provide food and essential commodities for people. Buy it for people, they can do it. We have the Dangotes, BUA,

Honeywell, we have so many producers and we have our local markets and entrepreneurs that have these foods. So food is not in shortage in this country, let me be honest with you.

PT: Nigerians believe that some of those marketers are hoarding food items, and even selling to neighbouring countries. In your opinion, should the current administration not review its border policy?

Soli: No, I don't think the idea of closing the border is good. What would closing the border do if the Customs and Immigration Services would do their jobs? It is just for them to do their jobs. Our people are simple people living on the border. They (Nigerians and neighbours) are living harmoniously. Why close the border? Of what impact will it be when you close between Nigeria/Niger borders? Or the Nigeria/Chad border? Or Nigeria/Cameroon? What impact? Or if you close the Seme border, what impact? If you close one border, they will open another. So keep it open and strengthen surveillance. Let Customs and Immigration do their job. If this

is done, then the macro-economic going on around the border would have

positive impacts within the communities.

PT: You represent a constituency that is along the Niger/Nigeria border. How did the closing of the border affect your constituency? And did you feel ECOWAS managed the coup in Niger very well?

Soli: Let me be honest with you, if you talk to someone from these communities, they don't even know that ECOWAS exists. They are the same people. It is a good idea that the ECOWAS and Nigerian governments have lifted the sanctions and opened the border and movement of goods freely. It will help the local economies of these border towns and then the pressure in that kind of thinking that we have a problem with this neighbour will be off their head and they will live in a very harmonious relationship.

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