The Non-Governmental Organisation Regulatory Commission Bill has suffered a major setback at the house of representatives public hearing organised to deliberate on it. None of the civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations at the hearing spoke in support of the bill.
The hearing was organised by the house committee on civil society organisations and development partners.
The bill, which seeks to supervise, monitor and coordinate the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs), has been condemned by many Nigerians.
Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission and one of the leader campaigners against the bill, had described it as “totalitarian”.
Those against the bill have argued that while the bill would be used to stifle operations of the NGOs, necessary laws have been put in place to regulate the NGOs. Speaking at the hearing, NGOs and various individuals presented their cases on why the bill should be “killed outrightly” or “allowed to die a natural death”.
Matthew Kukah, Catholic bishop of Sokoto diocese, while advocating against the passage of the bill said: “We have enough laws already to cover every sphere of the country. The intentions (of the bill) might be right but I think we can channel our energy to other things.”
Osai, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, also said if passed into law, the bill would erode the fundamental rights of many Nigerians, including the freedom of speech and association.
“Sections 11, 13 and 24 of the bill limits how people and individuals organise themselves in various groups and it seeks to get NGOs have their activities dictated by the whims and caprices of the government,” she said.
Similarly, Open Alliance, a coalition of over 50 civil society organisations working on the open government partnership (OGP), said the bill if passed will go against the tenets of the partnership.
OGP was assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2016 to, among other things, improve transparency, accountability and citizen participation through technology and innovation through collaboration with NGOs and private sector.
In its memo to the committee, the alliance said the OGP initiative can only be achieved with the independence and freedom of the civil society to bring ideas and expertise to the table — “something the bill is totally against.”
The memo signed by Edetaen Ojo, executive director, Media Rights Agenda, alongside other lead CSOs read: “The NGO Bill contradicts this initiative, the open contracting data standard and many others which Nigeria has signed on to.
“By eroding the liberty of the civil society, the civic space is shrinked to douse the voice of the people and therefore tilts the OGP scale to the government side. “We must reiterate that the government should not view the civil society as an opposition but see it as a necessary constituent of a democratic system for check and balance.”
At the end of the hearing, Peter Akpatason, chairman of the committee, said it will ensure submissions of the various NGOs are “well represented.”