It is with utmost sadness and dismay that millions of Nigerians received the news about the Non Governmental Organization Regulation and Coordination Bill which has passed Second Reading in the House of Representatives.
The Bill according to it’s sponsor Mr Buba Jubril (APC,Kogi) who is also the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, seeks to create an NGO Regulatory Commission which will be headed by an Executive Secretary and a 17 member governing board appointed by the President for a five year tenure. According to him (Jubril), “The bill is primarily to set up a commission to regulate their activities and provide a platform for robust relationships between them and the government for the interest of Nigerians. It will also curb the excesses of NGO’s as it will regulate their finances and how they spend money. It will curb terrorism as many NGO’s in the North East are currently used as fronts to finance terrorist activities. Churches, Mosques, Esusu and all religious organizations are not the targets of this bill as they are not NGO’s”.
Critics of the bill however, think otherwise. The move is seen as an attempt by the National Assembly to asphyxiate the Civil Society for daring to demand probity and accountability from the lawmakers. The recent moves by the Adetokunbo Mumuni led Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and other civil society groups to unearth the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers is a pointer to the negative reaction against NGOs by the National Assembly. Let us not forget that this is not the first time that they are behaving in this manner. The 8th National Assembly is known for using it’s legislative power against it’s supposed enemies. When they were been criticized in the social media by Nigerians for their indulgent lifestyle in the midst of grinding poverty among the citizenry, they reacted by coming up with the anti-social media bill. When INEC wanted to begin the process of recall for one of their own, Senator Dino Melaye, they summoned the INEC Chairman Professor Mahmud Yakubu to come and give account of his stewardship in a government agency that he retired from years ago. They have also summoned several government officials for criticizing their policies and corrupt tendencies.
I totally and unequivocally condemn the latest move by the National Assembly. This is because this bill if passed into law has the capacity to not only chase away foreign NGOs from Nigeria but also to discourage local ones thereby slowing the pace of our development. Development in this instance being political and economic development.
One of the cardinal ingredient in measuring the democratic credentials of a country is the ability of it’s government to be accountable to people. How can the government be accountable to the people if we do not have effective Civil Society Organizations? And how can CSO’s be effective if they are being regulated by the very people that they are supposed to hold to account? Giving the power to regulate and issue licenses to NGO’s to a regulatory body whose members are appointed by the government simply means that what SERAP and other NGO’s are currently doing cannot be done as their licenses would simply be revoked in order to keep their mouth shut. The ultimate loser will be the Nigerian people. We must not forget the role played by these CSO’s to end military rule in this country and bring about the current democracy which the lawmakers are currently enjoying.
What this bill seeks to achieve unbeknownst to the lawmakers is the massive underdevelopment of the country. Several NGO’s both local and international are making critical inputs into vital ares of the economy. Take the area of health for example, the fact that Anti-Retro viral drugs are free today in our hospitals is due to these NGOs. They also carry out health campaigns in schools, rural areas and even urban areas to sensitize the people about certain diseases and how to avoid contacting them or spreading them. It was due to the activities of these NGOs that the AIDS pandemic which at a point in time threatened to reduce the population significantly was curtailed and brought under control.
Nigerians must rise up and condemn this bill because if it is passed into law, It will lead to the dictatorship of the politicians over the people and the massive underdevelopment of our nation. What the Military Generals could not achieve through the front door would have been achieved by our politicians through the back door.