CSOs, other stakeholders oppose NGO Bill amid protests

Femi Falana

The HB585 bill is a bill for an act to provide for the establishment of non-governmental organisations regulatory commission for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, etc in Nigeria and for related matters.

The house of representatives committee on civil society organisations and development partners is now holding a public hearing on the bill.

However, of over 100 written and oral memoranda received by the committee on Wednesday, no single memorandum expressed support for the bill.

They said the bill was dead on arrival and that the National Assembly should have looked for ways of strengthening existing agencies, rather than calling for establishing new commission which is in itself an anti-people.

A former member of the House of Representatives, Abdul Oroh, who was deputy chairman of house committee on human rights, said civil society organisations were collectively a force for good.

He said: "States are adopting laws and policies under the guise of transparency and accountability that seeks to exert control over civil society thereby limiting their ability to work".

While the hearing was going on, protesters marched to the National Assembly asking that the bill be thrown out.

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NGO representatives at the public hearing described how, by giving the regulatory commission discretion to approve projects, lives could be at stake in emergencies, such as when funds are urgently needed for vaccines during an outbreak of disease.

Also, Mr. Adetokumbo Mumuni and Dr. Abiola-Akiyode Afolabi of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) had insisted that the bill should not see the light of the day as it will adversely limit these NGOs from performing their humanitarian services.

They also stated that by their names, NGOs were independent bodies which were not accountable to government.

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Declaring the public hearing open, Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, represented by the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Babangida Ibrahim (APC, Katsina), said the role of CSOs and NGOs could not be overemphasised, especially in a democracy where the wellbeing of the people was of great importance.

Falana said ahead of the public hearing: "This is perhaps the worst piece of legislation in Nigeria's history. The bill if passed will ultimately have a disastrous impact on Nigerian citizens' democratic participation in furthering the development of their own country".

The bill places undue restrictions on the right to freely associate, which is a fundamental freedom and essential component of democracy, as recognized by the UN Human Rights Council.

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