Bill to regulate Nigerian civil society groups duplicates existing law

The bill is aimed at policing civil society groups.

A new bill to regulate the activities of civic groups, proposed by a Nigerian lawmaker, Eddie Mbadiwe, appears to be a duplication of duties assigned to the Special Unit Against Money Laundering, SCUML.

SCUML is an agency established through the government’s constituted Presidential Inter-Agency Committee, to the Financial Action Task Force, FATF.

On June 30, Mr. Mbadiwe, a member of the House of Representatives, sponsored a bill to regulate international funding to non-governmental bodies in Nigeria. Hundreds of local CSOs and voluntary organisations receive donor funding from international partners to pursue developmental projects across Nigeria yearly.

Mr. Mbadiwe, a consultant Biochemist/ Industrialist, is a member of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, and a first-term member of the House of Representatives representing Ideato North/South constituency of Imo state.

The bill he proposed 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 states that no voluntary organisation is allowed to accept funds from international donors without the permission of Independent Corrupt Practices and other regulated Offences Commission, ICPC.

By this regulation, the ICPC would be mandated to approve funds for Civil Society Organisations, other non-governmental organisations and individuals who receive international funding for different programs. These programs are usually channelled towards sustainable development, public office holder accountability, good governance, improvement of access to quality healthcare services, polio eradication and HIV/AIDS care and control in Nigeria among others.
If the proposed bill is made law, such funding henceforth would only materialise if the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, approves it, a task which SCUML is already assigned to do.

SCUML’s duties
Subject to the provision of the Money Laundering Act (Prohibition) Act 2011 as amended, SCUML of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment was authorised to be responsible for the registration, monitoring of activities of Designated Non-Financial Institution, DNFI which includes the non-profit organisations in Nigeria.

SCUML’s objectives include remedying identified inadequacies of Anti-Money Laundering/ Combating the Financing of Terrorism, AML/ CFT legislation and institutional framework for implementation in Nigeria.

SCUML is expected to work in collaboration with Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other relevant regulators, professional bodies and self-regulatory organisations. These relevant self-regulatory organisations recognised under the extant law will be responsible for undertaking some activities for its members in consultation with SCUML and NFIU.

Policing CSOs

Mr. Mbadiwe, at the committee meeting on July 3, said he sponsored the bill with the intention to promote and defend civil society organisations.

He said there was consistent abuse of contribution made by the international community and the bill would help control inflow of money into Nigeria. He also noted that funds meant for CSOs have ended in the hands of terrorists.

“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 had said.

Mr. Mbadiwe’s new bill also includes a proposal to allow the ICPC inspect the records of voluntary organisations and seize their information if the law is violated. Penalty for violation is two years in jail.

Mr. Mbadiwe appealed to the CSOs to view the bill in the context of accountability which it preaches. He said that people who are genuinely involved in charity should have nothing to fear if they are registered with the ICPC.

Also, the resident consultant, Media and Publicity, ICPC, Folu Olamiti, told PREMIUM TIMES that the commission was aware of the bill, and would look into the task proposed for it with the aim of making contributions.

He said that some officers of the ICPC were expected to come up with a report on the bill to help the commission in its contribution on the public hearings.

“There was a public forum yesterday about the bill and I have just been briefed that our officers were at open debate for the bill and we came back with the impression that we will make our own submission. We too we are preparing our own contribution,” he said.

Mr. Olamiti also said the Nigerians would have to exercise some patience to be able to determine whether the ICPC had the capability and resources to handle the task the lawmaker was proposing.

“Let us wait till the eggs hatch before we can discuss on capability and resources,” he said.

Group asks lawmakers to vote against

On Monday, the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), a civil society group, released a press statement urging the House of Representatives to vote against the bill.

In its press statement, the SDIC said that as much as it was against terrorism, it did not support the destruction of democratic structures in the guise of combating terrorism.

The group noted that there were laws already governing the utilisation of money used by civil society organisations and it was the job of government to enforce these laws.

“There are extant laws which regulate civil society organisations, making it possible for these organisations to be held accountable for the utilisation of their funds. In addition to these laws, are policies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, policy which makes it mandatory for all NGOs to be registered with the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering, SCUML, and comply with its rules,” SDIC pointed out.

It asked that NGOs and voluntary organisations not be made to suffer, under the pretence of enacting a new law to tackle terrorism.

The group also pointed out that the strength of the NGOs was based on the fact that they were independent of the government.

A member of the NDIC, Ken Henshaw, described the bill as “obnoxious and horrific.”

“The bill poses a threat to the freedom of civil society organisations. It is a covert threat to our right to free speech, and by extension, a threat to the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria,” Mr. Henshaw who was a former president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, said.

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