WE are worried at strenuous efforts being made to shackle activities of civil society groups, otherwise known as Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs. If allowed to pass, our democratic and civil liberties will suffer a terrible blow, rather than expand, after 19 years of unbroken civil rule.
The Bill, which was sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Umar Buba Jibril, is calling for the setting up of yet another Federal agency to be known as the NGO Regulatory Commission, which will have an Executive Secretary and a 17-member Governing Board to be appointed by the President for a five-year tenure.
Its job will be to issue licences to all NGOs, which will require renewing such licences every two years. If the Commission’s board declines to renew any group’s licence, the NGO will cease to operate. The board will also poke-nose into how funds received from donors are spent, and if any NGO spends without the Commission’s permission it would amount to a crime which attracts a jail term of up to 18 months.
As expected, the Nigerian Network of NGOs earlier this week gathered in Lagos and unanimously kicked against this rather dubious effort to subject civil rights advocacy in Nigeria to military-style straitjackets. We are also opposed to the idea of creating yet another Federal agency which will draw on our lean resources only for the purpose of restricting free speech and shutting down avenues through which the civil rights of citizens are promoted and ventilated.
Civil society groups are very important components in the vanguard for the expansion of the democratic space and citizen rights. They play a big role in enlightening the people and promoting their access to issues like justice, liberty and the abolition of certain harmful socio-cultural practices that hamper human rights and personal dignity.
In an atmosphere of rapidly dwindling support of governments for their own organs of public enlightenment and social reorientation (such as the National and State Orientation Agencies), the NGOs, with the support of foreign and local support funding, are able to fill much of the void. They greatly complement efforts of the media in holding government to account and calling attention to ways by which the people can be better served.
We admit that, as any other human endeavour, NGOs can engage in excesses, such as corrupt practices and the promotion of strange foreign traditions such as same-sex marriage or behaviour which are against our laws and lore.
However, we believe that enough laws and regulations already exist to bring errant NGOs and their promoters to book. We do not need any additional effort in this pursuit, so the NGO Regulation Bill should be rested.