NGO registration bill is toxic, anti-people

NGO registration bill is toxic, anti-people

Thursday, November 30, 2017 10:25 am

Constitution of the Fed Republic of Nigeria

By New Independence Group

Although its main proponent, Buba Jibril of the House of Representatives, appears bent on seeing it to fruition, the Bill for the regulation of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Nigeria currently before the lower legislative chamber must suffer the fate of all ill-thought out and anti-people proposed laws – killed summarily.

In fact, it must be regarded as Brought in Dead (BID).

The Bill is inelegantly entitled: “An Act to provide for the establishment of the Non Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Co-ordination and Monitoring of Non Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations etc in Nigeria and for related matters.”

Shorn of its elaborate title, the bill proposes to abrogate one of the most basic fundamental rights of Nigerians, guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution – freedom of association.As federal lawmakers, members of the House are expected to be familiar with the constitution that they swore, solemnly, to uphold.Apparently, the grandeur of office has blinded the chief proponent of the bill to the fact that as the grundnorm, from which all laws derive their powers, the constitution cannot be validly violated by any law.

We, at the New Independence Group (NIG) are surprised — in fact, alarmed — that the lower chamber has allowed the bill to flourish till now.

The NGO bill purports to override the right of Nigerians to freedom of association, by seeking to set up a commission, and a Board, to register organizations that are not governmental and exist for sundry purposes, including the provision of humanitarian aid, or airing of political views.

The 1999 constitution states:

“1. (1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Sub section (3) of Section (1) rests the argument, when it states: “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”In other words, the law being proposed by Jibrin is void, ab initio,This is because, the attempt to subject the right of Nigerians to freely associate is a violent abrogation of section (40) which states:

“ Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons …”For emphasis, it is a constitutional right fo Nigerians “to assemble freely and associate with other persons.”Besides failing the test of the 1999 constitution, the Bill contains so many obnoxious provisions that make it absolutely irredeemable.

In Section 11(4), the bill grants the board that will execute the provisions of the proposed law the power to withhold registration to any NGO without explanation.It states: “The Commission may, by notice in the Gazette, exempt such Non Governmental Organisations from registrations AS IT MAY DETERMINE (emphasis ours)”!A similar monstrosity is contained in Section 13 (4) of the Bill where it states that “an organization that is not registered under the Act cannot operate in the country …”

The bill abrogates the inalienable rights of Nigerians further in section 15 where it empowers the Board to whimsically refuse registration of an application if: “( c) it is satisfied, on the recommendation of the Council, that the applicant should not be registered.”Not only are Nigerians expected to register their associations, section 17, (1) provides that they renew the exercise “every two years.”

Sub-section (2) provides: “Failure to renew will amount to termination of operations and will lead to the deletion of the name of the organization from the register.”Under section 18, the Board may cancel or suspend certificate of registration, while under section 24, it is an offence for anyone to operate an NGO in the country “for the welfare, research, health relief, agriculture, education, industry, the supply of amenities or any other similar purposes without registration and certificate under this Act”!Anyone in breach of this provision is liable to a fine of up to N500,000 or imprisonment of 18 months, or both.” Again, anyone found guilty under the Act is barred from holding any executive position in any NGO for 10 years.The Bill proposes to abridge the provisions of the Immigration Act, seize the power of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the National Planning Commission, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Customs service, among others.

For instance, section 19 of the bill proposes to regulate the employment of expatriates in the country, whereas the Immigration Act already has a comprehensive provision for the granting of work permits to that category of people.Section 1 states: “The Board shall receive and consider application for work permits in respect of prospective employees of a Non Governmental Organisation and make recommendation to the Comptroller of Immigration for the issuance of permit to the applicant.”

This is a superfluous duplication of offices and duties, which adds to the country’s already bloated bureaucracy. Over the years, Nigeria’s recurrent expenditure profile has been unduly bloated by the country’s penchant to create new laws to tackle real and perceived social maladies when there are extant laws to respond to such maladies.

For example, Federal Road Safety Corp(FRSC) was created ostensibly to tackle incidents of high way mishaps when, indeed, there is a road traffic division in the Nigeria Police Force. The same argument goes for the new armed-bearing status that the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has acquired, ostensibly discharging duties for which provisions exist in the laws that established the police.

Similarly in section 20, it empowers the Board to determine if an organization has ceased to exist and to deregister it for that purpose.Pray, what role is left for the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) which statutorily registers and incorporates organizations under Part Two of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 1990?

The bill proposes to set rules for the granting of import waivers to the NGOs, listing the criteria and processes for the exercise of that power by the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Nigeria Customs Service, a long-established process in the country.A law of such sweeping discretional powers, accorded its operators, can only mean one thing – legal powers to deny operations to civil society groups known to be critical of institutions of government and state administration.

The bill is not only illegal but also anti-people. The NIG urges the House of Representatives, and the Senate if it ever appears there, to so hold, and throw the bill into the dustbin.

-signed for NIG by its Convener, Professor Akinyemii Onigbinde

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