Deconstructing lawmakers’ decision to re-visit the NGO Bill, By Jerome-Mario Utomi

A peep into the history of attempts seeking regulation of non-profitable organizations (NPOs) in Nigeria will reveal that no bill has ever received the level of knocks like the NGO Bill sponsored by late Honorable Umar Buba Jibril and presented before the outgone 8th Assembly. The reasons for such knocks were built on the fact that if passed, it contains far-reaching, restrictive provisions than its counterparts.

Looking at commentary, what made the Bill a very controversial one lies in its quest for a regulatory commission established which shall facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and international civil society organisations and will assist in checking any likelihood of any civil society organisation being illegally sponsored against the interest of Nigeria.

With the above in mind, coupled with a recent statement issued by the ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ Theatre Command in Maiduguri, Borno State, that the army has ‘credible intelligence’ that the NGO supplies food and medication to the outlawed armed group, one may be tempted to conclude that the NGO Bill that was stepped down due to public outcry would have prevented NGOs from indulging in such an act. And, therefore, support as credible the recent decision by the House of Representatives to revisit the same controversial Bill to regulate Non-Governmental Organisations- a development many have since described as unpalatable.

Speaker Femi Gbajabamila had during a debate on a motion brought under matters of urgent public importance on funding for security agents, stated that ‘it has become imperative to revisit the bill due to the activities of NGOs in the North-eastern part of Nigeria. Particularly, as the Nigerian Army recently accused some international humanitarian organisation operating in North-east Nigeria of allegedly ‘aiding and abetting’ Boko Haram terrorists’.

Admittedly, no sane Nigerian will listen to this concern expressed by a fine profession like the Nigerian military that works round the clock to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, without throwing his/her weight behind the lawmakers doing everything within the ambit of their power to help the military come out fine in their effort to secure the nation.

However, an important distinction to make is that Non-Profitable Organizations are not just another platform for disseminating the truth or falsehood, information, foodstuff and other relief materials that can be controlled at will. Rather, it is a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas; in the same way, that government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances. It is a platform, in other words, for development that the government must partner with instead of vilification, controlled or caged.

Going  by the content of the Bill, it among other things  provides that; funds pledged by donors must be disclosed before commencement or the implementation of the project including the identity of the donors, the mode of disbursement and the conditions attached to the funding by the donor. 

And many are in consonance with the above provision.

Their argument is that NGOs are poorly regulated and therefore, it’s desirable to have a regulatory agency established specifically for regulating their funding streams by a government agency that is designed to monitor and improve policy as the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents overreaching and checks the accretion of power.

Admittedly, their point is clear enough; particularly as social responsibility theory postulates that every freedom must go with responsibility. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to state that this much orchestrated; abuse, dishonesty, incompetencies and personal interests alleged against the NGOs may flourish in overt and covert forms under the supervisory agencies if created.

This leads to another observation that plagues the bill.  That is its demand that every NGO must be registered with the Commission and sets out the requirements and procedure for registration; that fees shall be charged for the registration and certificate shall be issued upon registration. That registration with the Commission shall confer legal personality on the NGO and every certificate issued by the Commission shall be valid for a period of 24 months, and must thereafter be renewed by the NGO. Failure to renew will amount to termination of operation and will lead to the deletion of the name of the NGO from the register.

This provision is made worse by the awareness that the Commission may refuse registration of an applicant if it is satisfied that its proposed activities or procedures are not in the national interest or on the recommendation of the Nigerian National Council of Voluntary Agencies (a body to be established under the NGO Bill). The Commission may also cancel or suspend a certificate issued under the Bill.

If the above information is anything to go by, one may again be tempted to ask; where lays the responsibility and usefulness of Corporate Affairs Commission?  If the Bill is passed, will there, or should there be a difference or will the Corporate Affairs Commission- an agency statutorily assigned to register companies as well as handle other companies and allied matters, be performing the same function with the NGO’s regulatory commission? To find the answers to the above, we must analyze each of these elements in turn; we can understand the essence of foresight and see why we are reputed for duplication of offices.

Regardless of what others may say, the truth in my views is that we are poor as a nation and having challenges because we have a lot of failures and because policymakers do not know how to get rid of them and have heeded the wrong advice in the past. While rich countries on their part are rich because they have figured out better policies and have successfully eliminated these failures.

If achieving efficient security in the country is the aim of the honourable members of the House of Representatives, there are two separate but similar steps to take. First, is the need for the members to make adequate budgetary allocation for security to take care of the nation’s weaponry, training and re-training of security personnels to effectively and efficiently tackle insurgency and banditry in the country.

Secondly, government at all levels need to find a solution and fast to youth’s unemployment in the country as the teaming unemployed youths will continue to pose insecurity to the few that are employed in the country. Any other step outside this will translate to administering medication that cures the effects of a particular sickness while leaving the root cause to thrive.

Jerome-Mario Utomi ([email protected]), writes from Lagos.

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