THE Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill 2016 now before the House of Representatives is generating ripples in the polity. While the supporters of the bill argue that it will help to sanitise the NGOs, those opposed to it say it will emasculate the institutions. Most NGOs have, however, kicked against the proposed legislation.
Sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Umar Buba Jubril, from Kogi State, the bill proposes the establishment of an NGO Regulatory Commission, “to address or cure the defects occasioned by the absence of a regulatory framework for the operations and activities of civil society organisations in Nigeria.” It will have departments such as Finance, Planning, Research and Statistics, Information and Publicity, Community Relations, Personnel Management and Procurement. The bill further provides that the president shall appoint the Executive Secretary of the Commission and a 17-member Governing Board for a period of five years, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Many Nigerians have expressed their reservations on this controversial bill. There is no doubt at all that its intendments are obnoxious and designed to circumscribe clearly non-governmental institutions by bringing them under government control. This is unacceptable, especially at this time that the government is not effectively meeting its regulatory obligations to many of its own ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
The proposed commission is expected to issue licences to NGOs and renew them after every two years. It will equally have power to look into the institutions’ sources of income and how they expend their funds. The bill provides for a fine of N500,000 or 18 months imprisonment for NGOs and their personnel who fail to disclose or use donor funds appropriately.
In spite of the claimed benefits of this bill, we are strongly opposed to any legislation which seeks to turn NGOs into government institutions. The argument that some NGOs flout their operational guidelines does not warrant this contentious bill. We believe that there are sufficient extant laws to punish erring NGOs which are found to have flouted the terms of their registration with the relevant government agencies.
The government should rely on existing laws to redress the perceived shortcomings of the NGOs. Instead of a needless circumscription and over-regulation of NGOs, the erring ones should be sanctioned. We say this because the bill, if passed into law, would likely stifle the activities of these critical institutions. We must not forget that NGOs complement the government in many sectors, including health, education, human rights and governance. It will definitely be inexpedient to seek to fully bring them under government control and demand their sources of funding, more so as many of them operating in the country are international organisations that have been faithfully serving Nigerians over the years.
Since religious institutions also operate as NGOs and are involved in charity, there are also fears that the bill is designed to eventually check the activities of churches and mosques. In view of the controversy the bill has generated so far, we call on its sponsor and the House of Representatives to do away with it. The proposed law is against the people and development.
Section 4 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.” However, our lawmakers have a responsibility to pass only laws that will aid and not circumscribe development, or discourage the NGOs that are trying to help the government to meet its obligations to Nigerians.
What the NGO bill intends to do has already been done by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) which registers them. Besides, NGOs are like watchdogs, which fight for the fundamental human rights of Nigerians enshrined in the Constitution. These institutions exist all over the world and they cover areas that governments are unable to reach.
Our view is that the government should see them as partners in progress and not enemies. Any attempt to undermine the NGOs will invariably affect their service to Nigerians. Considering the unpopularity of the NGO bill, we urge that it be withdrawn forthwith.