By Sonnie Ekwowusi
The NGO Control Bill still pending at the House of Representatives completely lacks merit and therefore should be rejected. It is brought mala fide. It is oppressive. It is suppressive. It is repressive. It is antithetical to democratic values. Above all, it is unconstitutional. The full title of the Bill is: A Bill for an Act to provide for the Establishment of a Non-Governmental Organizations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria etc and For Related Matters. The sponsor of the Bill is the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Umar Buba Jibril. The Bill first found its way to the House of Representatives in 2016 where it has even scaled first and second readings.
I have read the Bill. From all intents and purposes, the Bill is mischievously misconceived. It is aimed at commanding, controlling, blackmailing, intimidating and manipulating Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as Neighborhood Organizations, Families, Churches, Town Unions village Assemblies and other Voluntary Organizations in order to rob them of their independence and efficacy in the revitalization of the society. In other words, under the pretext of assisting CSOs and NGOs in Nigeria to fulfill their objectives and to ensure transparency and accountability in their operations, Hon. Umar Buba Jibril’s Bill essentially seeks to emasculate or gag NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria. The Bill even stipulates that all CSOs and NGOs in Nigeria should register and clear with NGO Regulatory Commission before starting their operations in Nigeria. Which means that the Bill does not recognize the registration of NGOs and CSOs under the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 (CAMA). Terrible. I hope that the Bill will finally find its resting place in the dust bin after the Public Hearing on it slated to hold at the National Assembly in September 2017. Certainly Members of the various NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria will storm the National Assembly in September to proffer cogent reasons why the Bill deserves to be killed instantly.
I do not think that Hon. Umar Buba Jibril is well informed about the existing laws regulating NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria otherwise he would have known that there are already existing laws in Nigeria regulating NGOs and CSOs. In fact, our greatest challenge in Nigeria is not lack of laws but lack of enforcement of laws. For example, CAMA has clearly provided for the various ways of regulating, supervising, coordinating and monitoring of NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria. What is the raison d’être of the EFCC if not to tackle economic crime or NGO crime?. So we do not need Hon. Umar Buba Jibril’s law to regulate NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria. More importantly, considering that the objective of the NGOs and CSOs is to promote not-for-profit social, cultural, charitable, scientific and voluntary projects, the objective can best be fulfilled by their Trustees not through government control. Therefore Hon. Umar Buba Jibril’s Bill is completely superfluous. It is an unnecessary interference in the private affairs of CSOs and NGOs in Nigeria in violation of their rights to personal liberty, freedom of association, freedom of expression as enshrined in our 1999 Constitution. If the government suspects that a particular NGO or CSO working in Nigeria is an instrument of fraud it should set the law in motion against such NGO and CSO. But what the government cannot do is to send the DSS to harass or arrest the officials of NGOs or CSOs or set up a totalitarian mechanism that robs NGOs and CSOs of their independence and free initiatives that augur well for their growth and societal well-being.
It is a big paradox that in an age in which many countries are relying more and more on CSOs, NGOs, closely-bound communities, strong families ties, tightly-knit neigbourhoods and active voluntary organization in tackling many social problems, the Nigerian government is busy gagging and emasculating the NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria. The laws governing voluntary organizations or what are now known in modern political thought as CSOs and NGOs go back in their origin to ancient times. Besides, registered NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria already posses an independence and legitimacy recognized by existing Nigerian law and successive Nigerian governments. They do not need to register with any NGO regulatory Commission in order to acquire a new legitimacy to operate in Nigeria. Their legitimacy to operate in Nigeria is implicitly founded in inalienable rights of associations and expressly founded under the existing Nigerian law. Since the beginning of the 60s there has been a resurgence of an intellectual and political movement in the United States to resuscitate the American Civil Society and to give it an important place in the American democratic experiments. In fact under the respective administrations of Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and even Barrack Obama, the American political landscape was reshaped to accommodate the work of NGOs and CSOs. According to Michael S. Joycee and William A Shambra, every American President since 1964 to date has as a thrust of his policy the denunciation of the bureaucratic monstrousity of a centralised government and invigoration of small communities. Bill Clinton, for example, disliked big government and suggested a return to “organic networks”.. “Our problems, he said, “go beyond the reach of government. They’re rooted in the loss of values, in the disappearance of work and the breakdown of families and communities..problems will be solved only when all of us are willing to join churches and other good citizens…who are saving kids, adopting schools, making street safer”. Following the commitments of Carter, Nixon, Clinton, Obama and several American Presidents, the United States has been relying on CSOs and NGOs in the rebuilding of its social order. The idea is to empower Americans through the empowerment of CSOs and NGOs.
Therefore the Nigerian government should stop seeing NGOs and CSOs in Nigeria as competitors or rivalries but as partners in progress. Civil Society predates government. Government was created to serve the Civil Society not to strangulate the Civil Society. Civil Society is not an appendage to government; rather it has priority over the government because it is in the Civil Society that government finds its origin and justification.