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“A dynamic and autonomous civil society, able to
operate freely, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for
building a healthy society, and one of the key bridges between governments and
their people. It is therefore crucial that NGOs are able to function properly
in countries in transition, as well as in established democracies,”
Navi Pillay
High Commissioner
for Human Rights
United Nations

Over the past few months, there has been national
uproar over a very controversial Bill currently being debated by the National
Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives. Not only has this Bill
been denounced by Civil Society and other well-meaning Nigerians. The existence
of the Bill in itself is proof of the intention of federal lawmakers to silence
dissent and crush the activities of Civil Society that may seek to differ from Governmental
agenda.
Below are vital portions of the proposed
Bill which should get the attention of all Nigerians and the international
community with a view to forever silencing the Bill and raise our voices
against this Bill of the National Assembly which seeks to deprive Nigerians of
the right to hold government accountable.  
The Bill which is described as an act to
provide for the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory
Commission for the supervision, co-ordination and monitoring of NGOs and Civil
Society Organisations in Nigeria is sponsored by Hon. Umar Buba Jubril from
Kogi State.
According to Section 7 of the proposed
Bill, the objectives of the commission includes –
a.     To enable the
transparency and accountability of the operations of Non-Governmental Organisations
and Civil Societies to accomplish their missions according to the law.
b.    To ensure the transparency
and accountability of the operations of NGOs and Civil Society.
c.      To supervise NGOs
and Civil Societies to ensure that they operate according to the law.
Furthermore, Section 8 of the proposed Bill
further provides for the functions of the Commission to include –
a.     
To facilitate and coordinate
the work of all national and international NGOs operating in Nigeria.
b.    
To maintain the
register of national  and international
NGOs operating in Nigeria, with the precise sectors, affiliations and locations
of their activities;
c.     
 To receive and discuss the annual reports of
the NGOs
d.    
 To advise the Government on the activities of
the NGOs and their role in development within Nigeria;
e.     
To conduct a
regular review of the register to determine the consistency with the reports
submitted by the NGOs and the council;
f.      
To provide policy guidelines
to the NGOs for harmonizing their activities to the national development plan
for Nigeria;
g.    
To receive, discuss
and approve  the regular reports of the
council and to advise on strategies for efficient planning and co-ordination of
the activities of the NGOs in Nigeria;
h.    
To receive, discuss
and approve the code of conduct prepared by the Council for self-regulation of
the NGOs and activities in Nigeria; and
i.      
Doing all such
things incidental to the foregoing functions which in the opinion of the Board
are calculated to facilitate the carrying on of the duties of the Commission
under this Act.
The
proposed Bill not only seeks to stifle dissent but it also proposes to
duplicate the functions being served by other existing legislations. Such legislation
includes the 1999 Constitution; Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) of
2004; Companies Income Tax Act (CITA) of 2004; Value Added Tax Act of 1993;
FIRS Act; Personal Income Tax Act of 2011 etc. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to
create a commission whose establishment will lead to an increase in government
overhead, at a time when the government is currently spending N165 billion monthly on salaries of
federal civil servants.
The
Bill states in Section 11 that all NGOs shall be registered and shall among
other things state their sources of funding; location of their activities;
average annual budget; national and international affiliations and any other
information as may be prescribed.  However,
all NGOs are already registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission and granted
legal personalities under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
 The Bill also empowers the Commission to
exempt any NGOs it deems fit from registering. This will allow government to immediately
withdraw the registration of any NGO that dissents or objects to government actions
or policies in any way.
Furthermore,
any NGO which is not registered under the Commission, shall be unable to
operate in Nigeria, despite having attained legal status under the law. Registration
of which must be renewed every 24 (Twenty-Four) Months and can be denied if
seen to be against national interests or terms and conditions for certification
varied.The Commission shall also review and approve work permits for staffs of
NGOs.
The
proponents of the Bill argue that the requirement for CAC registration is not
sufficient for NGOs but this argument is similar to stating that all companies
in Nigeria must be registered by another government agency for the purposes of
monitoring. It is also claimed that the aim of the Bill is to ensure NGOS who
receive donations, do not abuse the funds collected in order not to soil the
image of the country. The Commission shall also issue a Code of Conduct to
regulate the funding and foreign affiliations of NGOs.
Clearly
the true intention of the Bill is to stifle the voice of Civil Society and it
should not see the light of day. Civil society is the conscience of a country
and must not silenced.   
Adedunmade
Onibokun