Groups reject moves by Nigerian lawmakers to ‘stifle’ civil society organisations

Members of the civil society say the bill was conjured to stifle their activities.

Representatives of civil society organisations strongly opposed the Voluntary Organisations bill at the public hearing of the House of Representatives committee meeting on Wednesday.

They held that the bill was initiated to stifle the activities of civil society organisations, whose work is pertinent to accountability and the nascent democratic process in Nigeria

The bill is titled- An act to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of financial/material contribution of donor agencies to voluntary organisations and for matters connected therewith.

It states that voluntary organisations would not be allowed to receive funds from international bodies except they are registered with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.

The voluntary organisations bill was sponsored by a member of the House of Representatives, Eddie Mbadiwe, who represents the Ideato North/South federal constituency. His primary legislative interests are foreign affairs, environment and health.

Mr. Mbadiwe, at the committee meeting, said he sponsored the bill to promote and defend civil society organisations.

“This bill is to defend and promote the work of the civil society organisations. There has been an abuse of contributions that come into this country.

“A lot of people have collected foreign funds and they do not do the jobs that they are supposed to do. This bill is to control the money coming into the country.

“Funds have been funnelled into this country under the name of civil society but end up being used to sponsor terrorism”.

“As a nation, it would address our security issues,” Mr. Mbadiwe said.

He said people who are genuinely involved in charity have nothing to fear if they are registered with the ICPC.

Mr. Mbadiwe appealed to civil societies to see the bill in the context of accountability.

The chairman of the committee of Civil Society and donor agencies, Ini Udoka, said the bill, “if passed into law will ensure effective utilisation of resources provided by donors and also ensure there is
no duplication of programmes for which appropriation has been made by the national government.

“It will streamline activities in the sub-sector by ensuring that donor agencies do not give out monies to organisations, parastatals and agencies without due consultations.

“The bill aims at empowering the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, being regulatory to monitor the disbursement of funds from donor agencies for effective implementation of targeted projects”.

The civil society members, however, said the bill was just conjured to rein in civic groups.

The lead director of the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, said the bill will only inflate the problems in the society, in terms of money laundering, fight against terrorism and cost of governance.

He said if money laundering is the mischief that the bill seeks to cure, many voluntary organisations, especially the Non-governmental organisations, NGO, have already been designated as bodies that report to the Special Unit Against Money Laundry, SCUML.

“Nigeria has new laws to combat terrorism including tracking down the financiers of terror and this law gives enormous powers to the state to proceed against terrorism – Terrorism Prevention Act,” Mr.
Onyekpere said.

The Executive Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy Centre, PLAC, Clement Nwankwo, who spoke on behalf of over a hundred civil society organisation members, said that they were rejecting the bill because it proceeds from a wrong basis.

“It proceeds from an exceedingly faulty basis and this bill should have been called the Foreign Contribution Prohibition Bill.

“The Bill is in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association as guaranteed undertaken Ryan Constitution of Nigeria, 1999… and the provision of articles 10(1) and 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and additionally contradicts Nigeria’s several international treaty and protocol obligations,” he said.

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