Leaders of CSOs say the bill is a veiled attempt to stifle dissent Nigerian Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, have expressed outrage over a proposal before the House of Representatives seeking to regulate international funding to nongovernmental bodies in Nigeria.
The bill is titled: “An Act to Regulate the Acceptance and Utilisation of Finance/Material Contributions of Donor Agencies to Voluntary Organisations and for matters related connected therewith”.
The bill was sponsored by Eddie Mbadiwe, a first-term member of the House of Representatives representing Ideato North/South constituency of Imo state.
Mr. Mbadiwe is a member of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
The bill sets out to give the Nigerian government the powers to regulate international funding to civil society organizations, a plan many believe is a veiled attempt to clampdown on CSOs in Nigeria.
The Executive Director of Enough is Enough, EIE, Yemi Ademolekun, in reaction to the bill, said Mr. Mbadiwe should focus on the many Nigeria’s problems like the missing N20 billion, and an end to the Boko Haram bombings.
The Executive Director of International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, Dayo Aiyetan, said the bill was setting a “dangerous trend”.
“It is unbelievable that a lawmaker from the House of Representatives would come up with this idea,” Mr. Aiyetan said. “If you leave things in the hands of government and government institutions alone, Nigeria would remain the way it is, corruption would continue and it is only civil societies and the media and public service organisations that can keep them in check.”
Hundreds of local CSOs receive donor funding from international partners to pursue developmental projects across Nigeria yearly.
If the proposed bill is made law, such funding henceforth would only materialize if the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, approves.
The bill states that no voluntary organisation is allowed to accept funds from international donors without the permission of ICPC.
The bill also seeks to bar individuals from accepting funds from any international organisation on behalf of any voluntary organisation. It proposes to compel voluntary organisations to make use of only one branch of a Nigerian bank; and explain the expenditure of the received funds.
Other provisions of the bill include a proposal to allow the ICPC inspect the records of voluntary organisations and seize their information if the law is violated. Penalty for violation of the bill is two years in jail.
Under the plan, CSOs based in Nigeria are to first apply to the ICPC and wait for months for clearance. The commission reserves the right to reject or approve the application.
While not stated officially, supporters of the law say it will help address money laundering and block funding for programmes that may undermine Nigeria’s interest.
But leaders of civil society groups say Nigeria currently has specific laws to deal with corruption, money laundering and terrorism.
The groups say the government is bound to abuse the bill, if ever passed, and use its stipulations to go after CSOs perceived to be anti-government.
The coordinator of African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Chido Onuma, suggested that the bill was targeted at the media that are critical of the government.
“Anything that tries to limit the civil society should be thrown out. If they are interested in any particular NGO, they can go to them to ask for their annual reports. I really don’t see the need for this bill and I hope it is thrown out when the time comes,” he said.
A coalition of Civil Society Organizations said the bill would add no value to governance, but would retard development.
“The Bill will hinder remittances and contributions by Nigerians in Diaspora to the development of the fatherland. This will increase and deepen poverty and the Nigerian misery index leading to further escalation of violence in the country,” the coalition said.
“That the provisions of the Bill is superfluous and duplicates the provisions of existing legislations such as the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act, the Companies and Allied Matters Act, the Terrorism Prevention Act, the Central Bank Act, the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act and several other extant Acts, practices and procedures.
“Many voluntary organisations are already registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission and file their annual returns; and have registered with Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) and also file the due returns.”
Efforts to speak with Mr. Mbadiwe, the sponsor of the bill, was unsuccessful as did not answer or return calls seeking comments. He also did not reply text messages sent to his phone.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...