Worrying legislation to restrict Nigerian civil society sector underway

Worrying legislation to restrict Nigerian civil society sector underway

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) are deeply concerned about impending legislation to restrict freedom of association in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s National Assembly is currently considering a bill to provide for “the establishment of the 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.” First introduced in July 2016, the bill has since passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on CSOs and Development Partners for further legislative input.

“The bill is in conflict with Nigeria’s Constitutional and international law obligations,” says Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of NNNGO. “We must instead strengthen civic space in Nigeria, as our sector’s role in finding solutions to the enormous challenges facing our nation cannot be overemphasized”.

CIVICUS has expressed solidarity with Nigerian civil society, which is deeply opposed to the bill’s provisions on grounds that the operations and finances of NGOs are already regulated by seven legal frameworks and overseen by five government agencies. This was emphasised in a peaceful protest taken to the Lagos State Governor at the Lagos House on 28 September 2016 by civil society organisations from different parts of the country.

One of the problematic provisions in the proposed bill is the mandatory requirement for NGOs to seek permission to operate in the country. This is in contrast with best practices issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, which underscore the right to form and join an association, including an unregistered association.

The proposed government dominated NGO Regulatory Commission would be empowered to “facilitate and coordinate” the work of all national and international NGOs, as well as to provide policy guidelines to harmonise their activities in line with the National Development Plan determined by the government. Civil society organisations are concerned about the amount of control this would give to the government-aligned Commission, and civil society ability to operate independently.

The bill also seeks to exercise operational control over projects implemented by NGOs by requiring them to seek prior permission from the ministry relevant to their area of work. The legislative brief of the bill introduced by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly emphasises the intention to establish a National Council of Voluntary Organisations to develop a code of conduct for the regulation of the civil society organisations on matters relating to their funding, foreign relations, national security etc.

“In its present form the NGO regulation bill will weaken the ability of civil society to expose corruption and rights violations,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research from CIVICUS. “The orientation of the Bill is patently undemocratic and geared towards controlling the work of NGOs whose independence is vital for a healthy democracy.”

CIVICUS and NNNGO urge the Federal Government of Nigeria and Members of the Nigeria National Assembly to reconsider the NGO regulation bill and focus on creating an enabling environment for civil society in law and practice to maximise the sector’s contributions to national development and constitutional imperatives.

Nigeria is listed in the ‘obstructed’ category of the CIVICUS Monitor

Article by Seyi Oyebisi

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