NGO regulation bill threatens Nigeria’s hard-won democracy, academics, experts, others warn

House of Reps
House of Reps

Leading figures from the Nigerian and global academia, media, civil society, law and multi-national organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America on Thursday called on Nigeria to withdraw the NGO Regulatory Commission Bill currently being considered by the National Assembly.

In a statement, the 54 signatories point out that the Bill “is clearly intended to encourage the excesses of bad government”. They argue that the Bill endangers constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, assembly, speech as well as freedom of conscience and religion and “will license unconstitutional discrimination too.”

The statement recalls that “NGOs have been integral to Nigeria’s democratisation”, noting that “because of the sacrifices and leadership of NGOs in confronting years of military misrule, members of the National Assembly can have the benefits and powers they enjoy today.”

The signatories conclude that the NGO Regulation Bill is “a distraction, a threat to Nigeria’s hard-won democracy and a dis-incentive to investment at a time that the country need it. It is both insensitive and unconscionable.”

To Nigeria’s National Assembly, they offer the suggestion that “this is the time for the Nigerian National Assembly to prioritize the serious business of the people by helping the country get out of its current difficulties. If it chooses this path, it will find willing and enthusiastic partners in Nigeria’s vibrant civil society and NGO community.”

Please see the full statement and signatories below.

NGO REGULATION BILL: A GRAVE DANGER TO NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY

The on-going attempt by the National Assembly to pass a law to control and undermine the operations of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, should be condemned by every Nigerian. In the grand scheme, this NGO Bill will create a government apparatus with ungoverned discretion to determine whether an NGO exists or for how long it will operate based on the dominant political whims of the day. As drafted, it has no place in a democracy and is clearly intended to encourage the excesses of bad government. It also violates Nigeria’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, assembly, speech and even of freedom of conscience and religion. It will license unconstitutional discrimination too.

NGOs have been integral to Nigeria’s democratisation. Because of the sacrifices and leadership of NGOs in confronting years of military misrule, members of the National Assembly can have the benefits and powers they enjoy today. In those years, soldiers branded NGO activists as anti-government or sponsored by foreign interests to destabilise. Thankfully, these voices remain active in Nigeria today in the difficult task of keeping government in check.

The proposals in this NGO Bill suggest that Nigeria’s Honourable Members and Distinguished Senators desire to bring back to life all the intolerance and high handedness of military rule, by clamping down on voluntary organisations, stifling free speech, restricting other political freedoms and dishonouring the tremendous sacrifices that ordinary Nigerians make to sustain their civic life.

It is already public knowledge that there is an extensive body of legislation governing the activities of NGOs in Nigeria. Nigeria’s problem is not an absence of legislation but with implementing them effectively.

In September 2017, the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Civil Society will hold a public hearing on the Bill. Every Nigerian of goodwill should lend their voices in condemning this bill and encourage the National Assembly to withdraw it from consideration. Nothing justifies the consideration or passage of this toxic piece of legislation. Current events in other African countries should remind us of the grave danger posed by the kind of unfettered powers that this Bill seeks to grant government.

Nigeria is going through one of its most difficult times. Nigeria’s democracy is endangered. The executive is operating in disturbing levels of opacity. The reputation of the judiciary remains mired in serious allegations of corruption. Many Nigerians are suffering the consequences of negative economic growth, leading to desperate livelihood conditions. Insecurity afflicts nearly every part of the country in the form of Boko Haram atrocities, inter-communal conflicts, rising kidnappings, massive fatalities from conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, and growing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Poor health outcomes and indicators as a result of the continual reduction of life expectancy, increase in the incidence of malnutrition, high rate of maternal and child mortality among others.

In the face of these existential problems, this NGO Bill is a distraction, a threat to Nigeria’s hard-won democracy and a dis-incentive to investment at a time that the country need it. It is both insensitive and unconscionable. Along with other proposals such as the Bill to regulate social media content, grant amnesty to treasury looters and give immunity to legislators, it is part of a growing list of abuse of legislative powers.

It is important that the Nigerian National Assembly at this point should have an honest examination of its actions and take steps to salvage its credibility. This is the time for the Nigerian National Assembly to prioritise the serious business of the people by helping the country get out of its current difficulties. If it chooses this path, it will find willing and enthusiastic partners in Nigeria’s vibrant civil society and NGO community.

Signed:

1. Maina Kiai,
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Association

2. Ayo Obe,
Former President, Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO

3. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN,
Life Bencher & former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Nigeria

4. Femi Falana
Former President, West African Bar Association (WABA)

5. Edetaen Ojo,
Co-Chair, National Steering Committee, Nigeria Open Government Partnership (OGP) and Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda.

6. Chetan Bhatt,
Director, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics & Political Science, (LSE), London UK

7. Idayat Hassan
Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) West Africa, Abuja Nigeria

8. Saudatu Mahdi
Executive Director, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Nigeria

9. Wale Okediran
Former Member, House of Representatives, Abuja.

10. Ben Anyene
Chairman, National Immunization Financing Task Team (NIFT) and Chairman, Health Sector Reform Coalition, Abuja Nigeria

11. Amma Ogan,
Former Editor, The Independent Newspaper, South Africa

12. Jibrin Ibrahim,
Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy & Development West Africa, (CDD West Africa) Abuja Nigeria

13. Dapo Olorunyomi,
Publisher, Premium Times Newspaper, Abuja Nigeria

14. Otive Igbuzor
Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD), Abuja Nigeria

15. Yunusa Ya’u,
Executive Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Kano Nigeria

16. Innocent Chukwuma,
Founder, CLEEN Foundation

17. Olusegun Adeniyi,
Chairman, Editorial Board, Thisday Newspapers, Lagos Nigeria

18. Simon Kolawole,
Publisher, The Cable, Abuja Nigeria

19. Kole Shettima,
Director of Africa Office, MacArthur Foundation, Abuja Nigeria

20. Adele Jinadu,
Emeritus President, African Political Science Association

21. Nsongurua Udombana,
Pro-Chancellor, Ritman University, Ikot-Ekpene

22. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu,
Chairman, Governing Council, Section on Public Interest & Development Law (SPIDEL), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)

23. Pascal K Kambale,
Human Rights lawyer; former law reform commissioner, the Democratic Republic of Congo

24. Yusufu Pam,
Former Attorney-General, Plateau State;

25. Ayo Atsenuwa,
Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria

26. Adetokunbo Mumuni,
Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), Lagos Nigeria

27. Kolawole Olaniyan,
Legal Adviser, Amnesty International Nigeria, Abuja Nigeria

28. Eze Anaba,
Editor, Vanguard Newspaper

29. Ayisha Osori,
Chair, Board of Directors, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Abuja Nigeria

30. Makmid Kamara,
Deputy Director & Ag. Head of ESCR Team, Amnesty International, London UK

31. Osai Ojigho,
Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Abuja Nigeria

32. Achieng Maureen Akena,
Executive Director, The Pan African Citizens Network (formerly CCPAU), Nairobi Kenya

33. Dinah Musindarwezo,
Executive Director, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Nairobi Kenya

34. Martha Makenge,
Ag. Chief Executive Officer / Programmes Coordinator, East African Civil Society Organizations’ Forum, (EACSOF), Nairobi Kenya

35. Chido Onumah,
Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Abuja Nigeria

36. Isaac ‘Asume’ Osuoka,
Director, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), Port Harcourt, Nigeria

37. ‘Gbenga Sesan,
Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Lagos Nigeria

38. Oluseun Onigbinde,
Lead Partner, BudgIT Nigeria, Lagos Nigeria

39. Bronwen Manby,
Visiting Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London UK

40. Samson Itodo
Executive Director, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), Abuja Nigeria

41. Seember Nyager,
Chief Executive Officer, Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), Abuja Nigeria

42. Akwe Amosu,
Chief Integration Officer, Open Society Foundations, New York, USA

43. Dismas Nkunda,
Executive Director, Atrocities Watch-Africa, Kampala, Uganda

44. Agnes Ebo’o,
Founder, Citizens Governance Initiative, Yaounde, Cameroon

45. ‘Yemi Adamolekun
Executive Director, EiE Nigeria, Lagos Nigeria

46. Udo Jude Ilo
Country Officer and Head of Office, Open Society Initiative for West ​Africa (OSIWA), Abuja Nigeria

47. Benson Olugbuo,
Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation

48. Iheoma Obibi
Executive Director, Alliances for Africa, London Uk

49. Blessing Oparaocha
Coordinator, Nigeria Feminist Forum, Lagos Nigeria.

50. Auwal ‘Rasfanjani’ Musa
Exective Director, CISLAC, Abuja Nigeria,

51. Eze Onyekpere Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Abuja Nigeria

52. Abiodun Baiyewu
Executive Director, Global Rights, Abuja Nigeria

53. Emma Sokpo
Director, Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), Abuja Nigeria

54. Mike Ogirima
National President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Abuja Nigeria


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  • GusO

    I’m not sure what the NGO bill the Senate is writing covers and whether it was meant to be self-serving. If the bill was meant to prevent good governance pressures on the Senate, then it’s a bad self-serving bill and should be stopped. But not all NGO restricting bills are bad. We should be wary of foreign NGOs who hire handsomely paid or bribed Nigerians to do their dirty bidding for them, whether it’s using Nigerians to generate fake studies stating that that genetically modified seeds are good for the country or paying Nigerians to spy and act against our national interests. A bill should be passed requiring Nigerians working for foreign NGOs to register as agents of a foreign organization or country. That’s what other well known countries do. They should also be required to state upfront in slide presentations that they are agents of foreign countries. If they fail to register or note who they are working for in presentations, they could be prosecuted and face jail terms. I would support such a bill.

  • tsunami1earthquake

    Maybe this proposed law aims to transform Nigeria to one of those tyrannical and despotic countries in Central Asia where NGOs are anathema. For example, in Turkmenistan, the mere mention of ‘NGO’ could land one in jail!

    Well, this is Nigeria’s problem; Nigerians elected these public officers to serve as agents of CHANGE, which was the mantra projected at the last electioneering campaign. And nobody was able to articulate properly what this ‘CHANGE’ was all about; only now we are seeing snippets and direct evidence of it. Maybe this proposed law is one of the cryptic elements of change in the midst of all the proposed changes embodied in the ‘CHANGE’ mantra of the present administration.

    The way one makes one’s bed would determine the way one would lie on it. Nigerians voted this government, and massively too. So Nigerians should deal with this particular problem if ever they would want the Senate not to proceed with this bill. In the midst of all these unpalatable changes everywhere, isn’t it something very surprising and enigmatic that many Nigerians (not just a few) are still hooting and welcoming the activities of the present government? Aren’t many Nigerians already proposing and running from pillar to post in the attempt to enthrone this same government again, come 2019?

    Does that show any modicum of seriousness among Nigerians? It’s for anybody to form his own opinion here. If Nigerians really want to stop this bill they can do it without batting the eyelid. As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with having NGOs. The NGOs are very important aspects of the civil society. Even the NGOs are recognized bodies and acceptable bodies in the United Nations. For clarity sake, what we now know as the Red Cross started as a NGO to save the dying in the field of battle at Solferino (1859). Today, the International Red Cross is a very important aspect in modern world affairs. What we now know as the revered Nursing Profession started at the Crimean War (1853-1856), thanks to The Lady of the Lamp, Florence Nightingale. Her group was not a government body. But today such an NGO has metamorphosed into the very important branch of medicine we call the nursing profession.

    If Nigeria’s public officials don’t want to learn about the world, then they could very well take Nigeria back to the time of primitivity of the Stone Age period, with the kind of laws they make.