Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central, Saturday said that he would stand against the controversial bill seeking to regulate Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) in Nigeria because of its threat to the fundamental rights to free speech and assembly.
In a Facebook post on his wall, Sani said he was worried that the increasing cases of human rights abuses and intolerance to divergent views in the country make it “dangerous” to back the bill.
He argued that his opposition to the bill was to “protect and preserve our fundamental rights to freedom of expression and of assembly”.
The senator said it was clear that if the bill became law, it would be abused by people in power.
“The increasing cases of human rights abuses and intolerance to divergent views across the country makes it dangerous to endorse or support any bill aimed at regulating the activities of the NGOs,” Sani said.
“I will stand against this bill to protect and preserve our fundamental rights to freedom of expression and of assembly.
“The tendency of the bill when it becomes law [to] be abused by people in the position of power is clear”, Sani said.
Since the bill became public knowledge, it has generated much controversy as some leaders within the civil society have raised alarm over its sweeping dangerous implications in terms of limiting freedoms and exposing non-profit organizations to the burden of government bureaucracy and political threat.
Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), recently made a viral video where he detailed in strong terms, the likely negative implications of the bill.
However, Hon Umar Jibril, deputy majority leader of the House of Representatives, and sponsor fof the bill, countered the allegations of Odinkalu, especially as regards his claims that religious bodies and local financial contribution schemes were also targets of the bill.
Umar said the claims were false, emphasizing the value of the bill in bringing sanity to the operation of NGOs in the country.
Also, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila who represents the Surulere I Federal Constituency of Lagos State, has expressed his view on the growing controversy around the bill. He accused Odinkalu and other opponents of willfully misrepresenting the contents of the bill in an attempt to whip up sentiments and frustrate genuine efforts at meaningful regulation.
Other supporters of the legislation have argued that NGOs in the country were due for stricter regulation as cases of abuse, especially financial abuse, abound.
In a related development, a group of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) had at a joint meeting with some lawmakers and government officials in Abuja on Saturday, described the bill as “unconstitutional, repressive and unfavorable to national development”.
They said the bill was not necessary as it was a “duplication of duties” of existing governmental agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“The bill is intended to suppress the voices of CSOs engaged in social development across the country by requiring to them to renew their legal identity every 24 months, considering the strategic roles of demanding accountability from government and its officials.
“There is nowhere in the world where governmental regulation of NGOs has helped to deepen the operations of NGOs instead it has always muzzled their operations existence.
“Governmental regulation of NGOs is antithetic to open democratic practices anywhere in the world as it appears that the commission will become another governmental NGO police.
“The bill is in breach of section 39 of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the right for free of association and expression.”
The CSOs said rather than create another commission to regulate operations of the NGOs, “existing governmental regulatory institutions should be strengthened to perform the role they are already mandated to perform.
“The bill should be stepped down and left to die, as it is retrogressive, repressive and should not be considered. We consider it unfavorable to national development and call on the National Assembly not to act on it.
“Existing governmental regulatory institutions should be strengthened to perform the role they are already mandated to perform.
“The national assembly should exercise their oversight function to enable the existing governmental agencies to perform their functions.
“The government should create a conducive environment for the operation of NGOs for effective service delivery in the interest of our teeming population.
“We urge the government not to introduce legislations that could jeopardize the work of NGOs, for the greater good of the country, as we would continue to oppose any restriction to what we consider as key indices of a true democratic state”, the CSOs said.
The bill, which has seven chapters and 58 clauses contains very touchy provisions like its Clause 26 which states 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”.
Also, another key provision of the bill says, “funds pledged by donors (to NGOs) must be disclosed before implementation of project, including mode of disbursement and condition attached to the funding by donor. Funds from overseas must be channelled through normal banking system”.
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