Following the criticism trailing the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill being considered by the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara has said that the National Assembly cannot be intimidated into abandoning its sacred legislative duties.
He stated this while delivering his welcome address at the resumption of plenary on Tuesday, where he also said that all questions and issues regarding restructuring can only be addressed through the legislature.
There have been criticisms of the ongoing efforts by the lawmakers to regulate NGOs in the country, with some alleging that the regulation is intended to gag the operations of NGOs in Nigeria including churches and mosques.
But commenting on the issue, the Speaker said that Churches, Mosques, Esusu, Market Women associations as well as local quasi financial institutions are not NGOs.
Dogara noted that public criticism of the content of the bill was a welcome development and that it is the reason why every bill is subjected to public hearing so that the inputs of stakeholders can be obtained to ensure the public buy in.
He however argued that “when opinions are targeted at disparaging the institution of the legislature then it becomes imperative to interrogate the motives driving such, especially when this emanates from those who should know.”
Dogara said, “Everyone should understand that the principal objective of the NGO Regulation Bill is to inject transparency, accountability and prevent the subversion of national security from both within and without.
“No one can nor indeed should gag the operations of NGOs in Nigeria, but just as they aspire for this freedom, it must be stated that freedom does not come without responsibility as there is no such thing as freedom to be irresponsible. There are also desperate attempts to instigate religious bodies and cultural Organizations to oppose the Bill by spreading falsehood that they are the target of this bill.
“For the avoidance of doubt, let me state once again that Churches, Mosques, Esusu, Market Women Associations as well as Local Quasi Financial Institutions are not NGOs and thus the bill has nothing to do with their operations. The legislative process cannot be short circuited. The National Assembly cannot be intimidated into abandoning its sacred legislative duties of providing a platform for Nigerians to agree or disagree on any proposed legislative measure. This openness and transparency is what the NGOs have always canvassed and promoted and they should therefore embrace this opportunity to interrogate the issues with open arms.”
On the restructuring demands, he said that the House will revisit voting on the constitution amendment in order to address agitations for restructuring in the country.
“Do we have a legislative response to the issues that have been thrown up? Is the National Assembly involved in the debate? Can restructuring take place outside the existing legal order? Indeed all the arguments about restructuring are at the end of the day, legislative issues.
” It may be necessary in due course for the National Assembly to have a second look at the issues that have been thrown up. The National Assembly as a representative and product of the people cannot act contrary to the wishes and aspirations of its constituents. We need to sift all the ‘noise’ and find out what exactly a majority of our people actually want? This is a responsibility we cannot outsource,” he said.
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