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‘The bill is unnecessary, oppressive’

Odey Oyema


Most Nigerians who have been reacting to the bill on the regulation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country being debated in the National Assembly have expressed the views that the bill was draconian and at best unnecessary.

SPEAKING to The Guardian on the proposed bill, Executive Director, Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), Odey Oyema, said the bill is unnecessary as it is draconian and too inhumane.

“This is a democracy. The only thing that qualifies one to operate as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) is to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) under Part C as a company limited by guarantee.“I think that is enough. The instruments that are available under the CAC law and how NGOs can be monitored are very clear. So, I don’t see why the government or the National Assembly should come up with another law on how we should be guided. It does not make sense”.

 
On whether the argument that there is a hidden agenda behind the bill, Oyema said: “I have a problem, particularly when it involves the Church, because the Church itself is being classified as an NGO, which is not correct. Ab-initio it is not correct to classify the Church as an NGO.  Is the mosque classified as an NGO as well?

“They are tampering with Christianity and it is a very sensitive matter. It appears they want to use the bill as a smokescreen. We are yet to see their real intentions. They have to be very careful.“They should jettison the law because it does not make sense. What we are doing is just complementing government’s effort. So, I don’t see why they want to look for a way to stifle our activities. How can we be compelled to register twice?

“There are too many issues to be addressed in this country today and they should stop overheating the polity. There is so much fraud in this country. They should address the issue of budget padding and poor implementation. Our roads are bad and we have been travelling on those roads as they are and we are tired. Let them address those matters and stop chasing shadows.” 

Also speaking, Coordinator of Wise Administration of Terrestrial Environment and Resources (WATER), a Calabar-based NGO, Edwin Ogar said: “I have never seen that kind of thing. If some are receiving funding to engage in anti-government activities, it is not all NGOs. For instance, do we receive funding in millions of dollars? Absolutely no! So that law they are trying to make is not to the advantage of the communities in particular, because government interventions in rural communities is so poor.

“And it is only the NGOs that are capable of reaching out to these communities that government intervention has not reached. If they go ahead with the law or bill, it means that thousands of people in rural communities will not be reached again and the government does not have the capacity to address their needs. 

“The bill is unnecessary and should be thrown away because there is already an existing law governing the operations of NGOS. The Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) of 1990 has given express functions of NGOs.

“Proposing a bill that will make NGOs to renew their registration every year and channeled all monies through a regulation body is not the best. We know our system here in Nigeria; anything passing through government it is possible the thing will not even reach the NGOs, because of the corruption in the system.”

It Falls Within CAC, Other Agencies’ Mandate, Says NHRC
THE National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC) in Nigeria has written to the National Assembly, stating its opposition to the controversial bill, which seeks to establish a federal agency to supervise, coordinate and monitor non-governmental and civil society organisations.“The commission is of the view that there is no need for the establishment of an NGO Regulatory Commission, as most of the roles and functions ascribed to it in the proposed bill fall within the mandate of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and other agencies referred to in the bill,” the NHRC stated in its letter to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The letter, dated September 26, 2017, was signed by NHRC’s Director of Legal Services and Enforcement, Omodara Olaniyi.The NHRC, however, proposed some amendments, which it said the lawmakers should consider if they insist on passing the bill into law.For instance, Section 15(C) of the bill states that the Governing Board of the NGO Regulatory Commission “may refuse to register an NGO if it is satisfied on the recommendation of the Council, that the applicant should not be registered.”

The NHRC is of the opinion that the sub-section be expunged, because it gives the council enormous powers to decide on which organisation to register or otherwise and that it was subject to abuse.

The Commission also rejected Section 17 of the bill, which makes it mandatory for NGOs to renew their registration.“This section is offensive and repugnant to the spirit of ease of doing business as marshaled out in the Executive Order signed by the Presidency and it is, therefore, unreasonable and should be removed,” the commission said.
 
It suggests that the duration of notice before the suspension or cancellation of an NGO’s certificate be made three months, instead of the two weeks in the proposed bill to enable an organisation to have enough time to defend itself against any allegations.The NHRC also rejected Section 21 of the bill, which makes “the ministry” an appellate body with the power to confirm or upturn the decision of the Governing Council of the proposed commission.

The Bill Falls Short Of Best Global Practice, Says CLO
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
THE Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Plateau State, has condemn the bill in its totality as it falls short of best global practice, adding that it was a misplaced priority, waste of time and resources that would have been deployed for pro-people bills.

It Director, Steve Aluko-Daniel described the proposed bill is anti-people, saying, “It is an attempt to cage the NGOs, conscript the democratic space and censor the progressive voice of the voiceless people.

“The provision for registration and deregistration in the bill is meant to deregister strong NGOs that speak against misrule. The bill is against humanitarian movement. The position of the council on the basis of first hundred NGOs that register betrays merit, accountability and transparency. The appropriation of assets to the Federal Government at the end of the project only amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul.”He said that it is a clear display of anti-democratic tendencies by House of Representatives.

“The CAC Act is sufficient enough to track and discipline any erring NGOs and there are other laws to prosecute any NGOs if the need arises.”Former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Plateau State Chapter, Sule Kwasau, said the controversy surrounding the proposed bill on NGOs pending before the House of Representatives is not too helpful, because there is so much emotion surrounding the public debate.

He argued that a cursory look at the proposed bill shows the necessary intentions of the House of Representatives, which among others, is to monitor how NGOs spend the grants and donations they receive from within and outside the country and to guarantee that such funds are used for lawful purposes and not diverted for other uses that may be inimical to national security and to guarantee financial transparency and accountability.

The laws that govern the operations of NGOs in Nigeria are the Company and Allied Matters Act 2004 and Company Regulations 2012. Section 590 of the CAMA talks of incorporation of trustees of certain charitable bodies and associations such as religious bodies, cultural organisations, educational, literary, scientific, social, development and other non-profit groups.

“What is wrong with the extant law that warrants a new bill? Perhaps this is where a lot of people are a bit apprehensive on the motive behind the bill. Over the years, Nigerians have increasingly become cynical about government activities. I see this attitude playing out in this controversy. Rather than going through the benefits that this bill seeks to confer on the masses, most of us are looking at the messenger rather than the message. For instance, is there anything bad in government showing more than a casual interest in the activities of NGOs?

“I certainly do not think so. The other argument is that though the bill specifically excludes Churches, Mosques and cultural groups from its applicability, people are still reading a hidden agenda that may not be obvious now but will become apparent in the near future. Churches, Mosques and cultural organisations may no longer enjoy the exemption.

“Like I said earlier, all NGOs are registered under part C of CAMA and if the bill is to affect all the NGO’s there must be special reason Churches, Mosques and cultural organisations are exempted now and others are not. There is the assumption that there is financial transparency and accountability in the management of the affairs of churches and mosques and which is absent in other NGO’s not exempted. That is not true. Corruption is endemic in every institution whether governmental or non-governmental. And if there is equality before the law then what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

“The other argument is that does the National Assembly have the moral standing to demand for financial transparency and accountability from anybody, considering that its financial activities is shrouded in top secret? For instance how much does a legislator earn in a month? Only they can answer that and over the years they have not told Nigerians how much is their take home? Section 603 of CAMA to my mind can address the issue of transparency.

“Ditto section 607 which provides for the submission of annual returns of the activities of such bodies registered under Part C. I am not averse to a bill that guarantees financial discipline, however, such bills must be widely publicised for the public to make their input. In other advanced countries such laws exist and Nigeria cannot be an exception.”

‘Sponsors Of The Bill Have Sinister Motives’
By Isaac Taiwo
THE Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins, has said the sponsors of the bill have sinister motives aimed at controlling everything that is happening in the country.He advised that government should not parade itself as a big brother that possess the ability and powers at its disposal to control everything.

He argued that there could be the possibility of abuses by NGO officials, adding however, that vices were common in every organisation, but the right thing for the government to do is to investigate and deal with culprits of such abuses.Martins said it was absurd for government to impose it on NGOs to start getting approvals before they could operate.

His words: “It is not right for government to ask NGOs to get permission from some agencies and politicians who themselves cannot be absolved from corruption and other misdeeds.“In my own opinion, government should come up with regulations that would identify the difficulties inherent in the operations of NGOs, their shortcomings and address them succinctly instead of delving into irrelevant issues like seeking to lord it over NGOs.

“It is also preposterous for the government to pretend that it has the capability of solving all the problems in the country and therefore try to veer into issues that do not necessarily call for their attention contribution.”

Martins added that NGOs were expected to be under a particular body or agency that has been controlling its activities, which should suffice without unnecessary government interference.

Also speaking, the Vicar General, Archdiocese of Lagos and Parish Priest of St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, Reverend Monsignor John Aniagwu, said he believes that Churches and religious organisations should not come under the control of NGOs being proposed by the government.

He said government may be thinking of the secular NGOs and not the Church and other religious bodies, adding that he does not believe in the necessity of such a bill.He, therefore, advised that the best thing to do should be to find out from developed countries like Great Britain if such a law exists there, adding that if a law regulating the activities of NGOs does not exist, then Nigeria should forget about it and throw out the bill.

The cleric said he believed that NGOs were duly registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission and are already being regulated by the laws.“Under normal circumstances, Churches and other religious bodies should not be classified under NGOs, let alone be regulated by laws governing NGOs.

“There are existing laws in place over Churches and religious bodies, which are sufficient to control them,” he said.Aniagwu said the motive behind the NGOs bill should be critically examined, as it appears that the sponsors have ulterior motive of subjecting Nigerians to a dictatorial government in a democratic setting.

He reiterated that NGOs should be left alone with the existing laws under which they were registered with no moral burden placed on them unless those behind it have evil intention.“Politicians are clamouring for regulation of NGOs whereas they themselves are corrupt and detest coming under regulation,” he said.

‘It Is A Ploy To Gag Opposition’
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure 
MOVEMENT for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP) has described the moves by the National Assembly to regulate the activities of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as draconian.

President of MOSUP, Dappa Maharajah, stressed that it was a move to truncate the effectiveness of democracy in the country by employing draconian laws to intimidate the civil societies. 

According to him, civil societies are the watchdogs that hold government accountable to its responsibilities since democracy was restored in 1999.This, he noted, irked the politicians and they are out to do everything possible in their powers to restrain the CSOs and NGOs from performing their duties for the benefit of the society and humanity at large.

Bamidele Martins told The Guardian that it would lead to the collapse of most civil and social institutions in the country, affirming that NGOs and CSOs render selfless services to the society. 

“The NGOs in the country today render a lot of selfless services. Often times, they embark on services that are direct responsibilities of the government,” he said.

For example, he recounted that the civil societies in Ondo State had enjoyed mutual working relationship with the state government in the actualisation of policies, especially in the health and education sectors. 

Similarly, founder of BRECAN, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu and an Oncologic surgeon from Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo, Katung Aba, emphasised the indispensable roles of civil societies in the country. 

Anyanwu-Akeredolu, who stressed this during the N200 million fund raising event to support Ondo State women with breast cancer in Akure, noted that the menace could only be solved effectively through the unrestricted operations of the civil societies and cooperation from government and members of the public.

A legal practitioner, Niyi Oniyesan, said: “The proposed bill to regulate the activities of NGOs and CSOs is unnecessary and uncalled for. I fail to see how it will benefit or serve the interests of Nigerians.”Oniyesan, however, noted that there are some civil society groups whose credibility and sincerity are questionable, saying their purpose and goals are driven by cruelty and self-centredeness.

Leave NGOs Alone, Provide Good Governance, Osu Tells FG
By Tobi Awodipe
THE Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Monsignor Gabriel Osu, has condemned the NGOs Bill, describing it as an unnecessary governmental interference meant to create more bribery avenues for themselves. He advised government to focus on more important matters that are presently confronting the country.

Speaking to The Guardian, he conceded that he was not in support of people using the cover of NGOs to scam people but government has no right to interfere in their affairs.

“It is difficult to trust government with whatever they say because they say one thing and do another. Let them tell us the type of regulations and adjustments they want to see take place and the appropriate authorities that should enforce it. Nobody can start up an NGO without a government license and I believe strongly that this was brought up by a busy-body in government to distract us from the main issues,” he said.

Lamenting that NGOs were supposed to be charitable bodies, but the love of money and greed have made people turn them into money-making ventures, he advised that those failing to do what they were set up to do should be fished out and have their license revoked.

“With this government, it is always one step forward and five steps backward. They know the right thing to do but they will not do it. They should mind the business we elected them to resolve on pressing state matters. I am very sure someone in the corridors of power has a vested interest if not, why should they want to know where NGOs get their money?

“I am sure that any responsible NGO is ready to open their books if asked. These organisations are non-profit and anyone making profit should be punished accordingly. This government wants to reap where it did not sow. The bad ones are there, I am not denying but they are not up to a quarter of the total number. These ones should be investigated and closed down.”

Oyebode, Mumuni Kick Against NGO Bill
By Bertram Nwannekanma
A Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, University of Lagos, Akin Oyebode, has cautioned against the recent attempt by the National Assembly to pass a bill regulating the activities of NGOs.

He said the attempt, which was premised on the flimsy excuse that some CSOs and NGOs were corrupt should not be allowed. “Cutting off the head is not the cure for headache, the bill is an overkill. If they stifle organisations like SERAP, who will fight for the masses? The government do not want anybody to act as impediment to their thieving activities.”

Delivering a paper on Strategies for Mobilising Mass Action to Demand Anti-Corruption Reforms and an End to Impunity for Grand Corruption in Nigeria, at an event in Lagos, Oyebode insisted that mass action by the citizens is urgently needed to put pressure on authorities to end impunity for grand corruption in the country.”
 
Also the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni, said the bill to control the NGOs introduced by one Umaru should not be allowed to see the light of the day because it would affect the capacity of Nigerians to mobilise against corruption and hold the government accountable.

‘Nigerians Should Reject The Bill’
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
A Professor of Medicine at the University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Sunday Chinenye, has asked Nigerians to reject the bill, saying it was an attempt to cage the civil society organisations.

Chinenye, who spoke in Enugu during the 39th scientific conference and annual general meeting of the Endocrine and Metabolism Society of Nigeria (EMSN), insisted that passing the bill into law was akin to ensuring that no organisation watches the activities and policies of government any longer.

“I do not think it is right because when a system is faulty, it is these civil societies that make the needed input to ensure that the right things are done and so, I don’t think the people should allow this bill sail through,” he said.

Also the National Coordinator of the Youths Education on Human Rights and Civic Responsibility (YEHRCR), Crownwell Chibuzo Godson, urged people not to be disillusioned about the bill, insisting that passing such a bill into law does not mean that it is final.

He stated that the unpopular proposal has the potential of weakening the civil society groups in the country, saying, however, that he was contended that such unpopular bills have been tested in court and reversed.

He said that Nigeria’s constitution had always approved freedom of associations, such that people could interrogate the activities of the government to ensure accountability, explaining that those behind the proposal do not wish the country well.

In this article:
Odey Oyema


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