Professor Peter Willetts, of City University, London in his paper, “What is a Non-Governmental Organization?” published on Gdrc.org, describes NGO as “an independent voluntary association of people acting together on a continuous basis, for some common purpose, other than achieving government office, making money or illegal activities.” He added that many “diverse types of bodies are now described as being NGOs. There is no generally accepted definition of an NGO and the term carries different connotations in different circumstances. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental features. Clearly an NGO must be independent from the direct control of any government. In addition, there are three other generally accepted characteristics that exclude particular types of bodies from consideration. An NGO will not be constituted as a political party; it will be non-profit-making and it will be not be a criminal group, in particular it will be non-violent.”
NGOs are formed out of the desire and diverse passions to address specific challenges in the society. Perhaps many states would have been brought to their knees today but for the timely assistance of some NGOs in various sectors. Therefore, if there is any policy from the government this period it is supposed to encourage the NGOs rather than the obnoxious Bill sponsored by the Hon. Umar which intends to suffocate the activities of NGOs in the country.
Perhaps it will be apt to identify and understand the context in which contemporary governments view NGOs as quoted in a publication on Forusa.org by René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and representative of the Association of World Citizens to the United Nations, Geneva: “There has always been something of a problem in defining institutions in a negative way. NGOs are not governments and are not usually directly created by governments. The term “transnational advocacy network” would be a better analytical term, but NGO is likely to be widely used. As William De Mars points out “Currently, the NGO bloom has three dimensions. First, NGOs are proliferating quantitatively in establishing issue-areas, including human rights, grassroots development, humanitarian relief, environmental protection, feminism, population control, conflict resolution and prevention, and democratization. Second, the increase in NGO numbers is a global phenomenon affecting all regions, even Asia and the Middle East where governments have maintained relatively tight control over civil society for decades. Third, NGO are also proliferating qualitatively, by taking the initiative to create new issues where hitherto they have exerted limited influence. The NGO bloom, in all its dimensions, constitutes a problem for government policymakers everywhere, because the very presence of NGOs alters the context for government policy. It is a matter of historical record that had it not been for the lobbying of NGOs in San Francisco in June 1945, the Commission on Human Rights would never have been established. At the San Francisco Conference drafting the U.N. Charter, representatives from 42 NGOs pressed for the inclusion of human rights provisions in the Charter and for the establishment of a commission on human rights. From the beginning, the NGOs have been the life-blood of the Commission.”
In response to manifold challenges in our society, people are forming associations, foundations and non-profit institutions to deliver human services, promote grassroots economic development, prevent environmental degradation, protect civil rights and pursue other copious objectives formerly unattended to or neglected by the state. The activities of NGOs over the years have engendered development in the society. A Bill for an Act to Establish Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Regulatory Commission, sponsored by Hon. Umar Buba Jibril (Deputy House Leader, Lokoja/Kogi/KK Federal Constituency of Kogi State), which seeks to provide for among other things the establishment of the Non- Governmental Organizations (NGO) Regulatory Commission Nigeria for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of non-governmental organisations is another ploy by the enemy of progress to gag the agent of development in Nigeria and reduce our lives only to the coffers of the government. The Bill also seeks to establish a sister National Council of Voluntary Agencies as a collective forum for all voluntary organizations registered with the Commission. The Billas conceived remains a threat to the work of NGOs and the wider civil society community and should not be allowed to see the light of the day for many reasons.
Duplication of Duty and Office
Part II of the proposed bill enumerated functions of the Commission which include: to enable and encourage Non-Governmental Organizations at Civil Societies to accomplish their missions according to the law; to ensure the transparency and accountability of the operations of Non- Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies and to supervise Non- Governmental Organisations and Civil Society to ensure that they operate according to the law.
It is clear that the promoter of this bill with these objectives lack knowledge of the true picture of the policy regime in place in Nigeria that regulates the NGOs. For instance, Section 71 of the National Planning Commission (NPC) establishment Act of 2003 gave it rights to monitor and regulate the activities of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria.
The NPC mandate also includes the monitoring of the influx and utilisation of cash donations from foreign development partners to NGOs and CSOs in the country, which play a role in the nation’s development. Thus, the regulation and monitoring of activities involving NGOs and CSOs has been the responsibility of the NPC in line with section 71 of the NPC Act of 2003, creating another commission to carry out this function amount to duplication and unnecessary waste. Also, the funds as well as activities of their beneficiaries have largely been regulated by the National Planning Commission.
Moreover, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) provides a regulatory framework for the work of NGOs in Nigeria. CAMA law under section 7 invests the power to regulate and supervise the NGO sector on CAC; section c of the law covers registration, supervision and regulation of their activities. The proposed bill is duplicating this role in section 2 “that application for registration shall be submitted to the Executive Secretary of the Commission in the prescribed form”.
Registered NGOs, be they companies limited by guarantee or incorporate trustees, are regulated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) pursuant to the provisions of CAMA. NGOs that are companies limited by guarantee are obliged, like other companies, to submit annual returns each year to the CAC (s. 370, CAMA). By s. 373 of CAMA, the annual returns of a company limited by guarantee “shall be in the form prescribed in the Tenth Schedule” to CAMA “or as near to it as circumstances permit.” Also, the returns shall be accompanied with “a statement containing particulars of the total amount of the indebtedness of the company in respect of all mortgages and charges which are required to be registered” with CAC under the CAMA. It is worthy of note too that the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) is saddled with national security and could come handy, or through its sister agencies like the Department of State Security (DSS), if NGOs truly pose security threat to the Nation through their foreign affiliates or partners, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police could be responsible for fraudulent activities.
Apart from the enforcing of laws that recognise and regulate these organisations, government departments in some instances require NGOs to register with them for the purpose of collaborating with or working for such departments in some programme areas. Therefore, creating another commission for the purpose of regulating civil society organisations is tantamount to duplication of office and duty in Nigeria.
It will therefore be suggested that the Honourable should tell the nation if CAC, EFCC, NPC, NSA, DSS et al have failed to carry out their basic responsibilities as regulatory and security agencies and need to either be dissolved, reshuffled or advised to stand up to their duties. We really do not need large government parastatals to set us on the right path as a nation. Perhaps, that is why CAC is promoting “A BILL FOR AN ACT TO REPEAL THE COMPANIES AND ALLIED MATTERS ACT 1990 (CAP C20, LFN 2004) AND ENACT THE COMPANIES AND ALLIED MATTERS ACT, 2016 TO PROVIDE FOR THE INCORPORATION OF COMPANIES, REGISTRATION OF BUSINESS NAMES TOGETHER WITH INCORPORATION OF TRUSTEES OF CERTAIN COMMUNITIES, BODIES, ASSOCIATIONS AND INCIDENTAL MATTERS”
It seems we are too bothered with enacting many laws which we do not even understand. Why then the complexity? As much as we de-emphasize regulations as an organization, we hold the opinion that with the nation gradually coming to terms with the reality of its economic status, all efforts should be geared towards reviving the downwardly spiralling economy rather than opening up further avenues to drain the nation’s meagre resources or highly depleted revenue base.
Food for the boys when Nigeria hardly pays salary
Reading through the bill, one would not but imagine the number of offices, departments and other appendages that will be created by this commission. All these are to be financed by the federal government which is struggling to pay the salary of the workers in the country today. This bill is another way of piling more burdens on the Federal Government for ulterior motive, or succinctly put, for finding food for “The boys”, another way of not just institutionalising corruption, but immortalising it. Apart from the board members, secretary of the commission, the commission shall have in its head office: finance and Accounts; Planning, Research and Statistics; Information and Publicity; Community Relations; Legal; personnel Management; and procurement. We do not think Nigeria is ready for such a waste this time around. The Executive arms of government is presently faced with the challenge of reducing its loads of Agencies/Parastatals to a meaningful, reasonable and manageable number so as to become more proactive in their responsibilities, while the Legislative arm is proposing a bill to increase the numbers. Can we be saved of the intending burden this bill will add to our already burdened economy? The boys can please look elsewhere for their pay.
Delay project execution and abuse of human right
Section 26 of the bill proposed that a project formulated by an organisation for eventual implementation in the country shall be approved by the relevant Ministry and registered with the Commission before implementation. This clause obviously will constitute a clog in the wheel of NGO’s operation. This is another way of planning for failure. This clause will cause unnecessary delay in executing projects and eventually defeat the objective of civil society organisations. In addition to this, the idea of a project shall not be executed unless it gets approval of the relevant Ministry and registered with the commission is retrogressive and constitute a great bureaucratic constraint to the progress of the NGOs and on the exercise of their individual and group rights in our democratic settings.
The “right to peaceful assembly and association” is guaranteed in section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 in the following terms:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
The Bill is a clear violation of this constitutional right to freedom of association as defined by the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, and the provisions of articles 10(1) and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which states that, “Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law… Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the Safety, heath, ethics and rights and freedom of others” Also the Bill contravenes Nigerian’s obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and any bill calling for another regulatory commission is tantamount to gagging the NGOs from freely operating, a literal call for the subjection of NGOs to government’s control, a total contravention of the basic tenets for the establishment of NGOs
In the light of these facts mentioned above, all hands must be on deck, the NGOs and Civil Society Organisations in the country should wake up and kick against the passage of the bill into law. A bill like this should be thrown into the dustbin of history because its intention is not genuine and will further hamper the wheel of development in the country. It is no longer news the pivotal roles civil society play in the development process of a country that should not be abridged through unnecessary legislation. We therefore call on the Honourable in question to retract this bill and the House of Representatives to discontinue action on it.