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The talk amongst the civil society community now is about the obnoxious bill at the House of Representatives seeking to regulate the operational environment for Nigerian non-profits. Civil society actors feel badly about this. And they are justified: non-profits open their doors of support to millions of families, individuals and communities often neglected by government and many fund their activities directly through monies provided by the founder, family and friends. Very few get funding support from donor agencies locally or internationally. At the same time, many members of the National Assembly also support one non-profit or the other or even set up their own foundations for the purposes of providing support to their constituents.
The charged atmospheric condition both online and offline caused by the NGO Commission Bill (HB585) proposed by Umar Buba Jubril, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kogi State, could better be imagined under a military regime. The bill if passed into law would make it compulsory for non-profits to register with the commission renewable every two years and for their activities to be approved by relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. For example, if a non-profit wants to advocate transparency, openness and accountability in the use of our common wealth, it will after registering with the commission need to seek the permission of the Ministry of Finance who will check its project documents, know the sources of the organisation’s funding, review its work plan and then either give approval or not. The ministry’s decision is final.
Jubril might have thought there are good reasons to back this section of the bill. One is the content of the legislative brief presented in support of the bill by him on the floor of the House of Representatives. It says, “these organisations do not have a single legal framework that supervises the mode of their operations including their funding. What is only required is to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission and thereafter commences operation in Nigeria.”
This is not true as there are eight legal frameworks guiding the work of Nigerian non-profits and they are:
The proposal in Bill 585 is a camouflage by Jubril and other proponents to stifle the civic space and to restrict civil society from supporting and contributing effectively to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals as his proposal weakens the necessary foundation for the partnership needed to attain the goals by 2030. Research has shown that the bill is against Article 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights which Nigeria acceded to on July 29, 1993 and Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ratified by Nigeria on June 22, 1983. Both the covenant and the charter guarantee the freedom of association. The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently found that mandatory registration of the NGOs is not permitted under Article 22 of the ICCPR.
Jubril has no legal argument on his side as the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. The right to seek use and receive resources – human material and financial – from domestic, foreign and international sources is an essential element of the freedom of association guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and international laws. This has been affirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association in his report presented on April 23, 2013 to the UN Human Rights Council Section III (para 8-42) A/HRC/23/39. (See http://bit.ly/29TPfyb for a copy of this report).
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