Abuja — A proposed bill currently before Nigeria’s lawmakers, which will give the government sweeping powers over non-governmental organisations (NGOs), threatens the existence of Nigerian civil society, if passed into law.
The Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have warned that the bill is clearly intended as a means to undermine the work of NGOs, especially those working to hold the government accountable. The fact that the House of Representatives hastily announced a scheduled public hearing for 13 and 14 December 2017 in the capital, Abuja is indicative of the intention of the authorities to avoid broad participation of civil society organisations from the different parts of Nigeria and ram the bill through the Legislature. Most CSOs are based outside of Abuja, where the public hearing will be held, making it difficult for them to travel to the hearing at short notice.
The Bill for the Establishment of the NGO’s Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations makes it compulsory for all NGOs operating in Nigeria to register with the government and requires them to include details such has location and duration of proposed activities as well as information on all sources of funding. In addition, the proposed legislation states that NGOs will be required to provide “additional information” as requested by the Board during registration but does not say what this “additional information” would be.
These requirements make the registration process cumbersome and may inhibit the timely registration of some NGOs, making them susceptible to penalties. In addition, making NGO registration compulsory goes against international standards for freedom of association as it prevents informal associations from existing and operating freely because of their lack of formal status.
Said Oyebisi Oluseyi, NNNGO Director: “Civil society organisations in Nigeria provide social services to communities, contribute towards development outcomes and work to ensure that the government adheres to its human rights obligation.” If passed into law, the proposed NGO law will severely restrict the environment in which civil society operates and reverse socio-economic and democratic gains made over the years.”
The Bill provides wide powers to a regulatory agency to refuse to issue a registration certificate if, for example, it deems activities of the NGO to be against national interest. The Agency also has the authority to suspend or cancel a certificate that has been issued. Such broad powers place NGOs — especially those critical of government actions and who speak out against corruption and human rights violations — at the mercy of the authorities who can deregister organisations as a punitive measure for holding the government to account.
The content of the Bill is symptomatic of a growing global trend we now experience among governments to thwart the work of civil society organisations by placing restrictions on them in law and practice and by using the term “foreign agents” to discredit their work.
In addition, the Bill requires that NGOs register every two years and that the names of NGOs that fail to do so are deleted from the national register, forcing such NGOs to cease all their activities. It states that the registration of an organisation will be renewed on condition that the organisation submits its tax clearance certificate and other relevant documentation required by the Board.
The Bill compels NGOs to submit projects to the relevant government Ministry for approval and then registered with the agency’s board before they are implemented. The Bill does not place a limit on the registration fees for NGOs but leaves it to the discretion of the Commission. Individuals who violate provisions of the Bill face up to 18 months in prison or a huge fine and those convicted of such violations are prohibited from holding office in an NGO for a period of ten years.
Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS: “If passed into law, this draconian bill will place civil society under the thumb of the government and practically take away the independence of NGOs. It might also set a negative precedent in the West African region, aggravating an already hostile environment for civil society.”
CIVICUS and NNNGO call on the Nigerian authorities to adhere to their constitutional and international obligations on freedom of association and expression and withdraw the Bill.
For more information contact:
Nigeria Network of NGOs
+234 906 948 5207
Lead: Campaigns and Advocacy
+27 11 833 5959