Activist lawyer, Mr Femi Falana SAN has described the Non-Governmental Organisation, NGO, Bill, currently being considered by the House of Representatives, as the ‘worst piece of legislation’ in the history of the country, as he called on the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara to stop the passage of the bill.
He made this assertion in a statement signed by him on Wednesday wherein he stated that the bill unequivocally threatens the existence of a free and independent civil society in the country.
Falana pointed out that the bill will have a disastrous consequence on Nigerian citizens’ democratic participation in boosting the development of the country, as it allows any civil society group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance to be shut down and criminalised.
The controversial NGO Bill aims to regulate and monitor the activities of all civil society organisations and labour unions in the country. Public hearing on the bill, which began yesterday, will be concluded today.
During the day’s session, the proposed law received zero support from stakeholders.
None of the persons who appeared before Nigerian lawmakers on Wednesday expressed support for the bill to regulate NGOs.
Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah stressed that without civil societies, democracy would be in danger, adding that, “I stand with civil societies very firmly. The greatest benefit for us in a democracy is freedom.”
The Archbishop maintained that Nigeria already has enough laws to cover almost every dimension of its citizen’s life.
“We have other institutions that are literally malfunctioning and unable to deliver services,” he said and hoped that the National Assembly would take seriously the arguments of various CSOs presented at the public hearing.
Mike Egboh, who spoke on behalf of health reform sector coalition, said passing the NGO bill would amount to sentencing the women and children of Nigeria to death.
“Creating the NGO Regulatory Commission means killing Nigerian women and children because when there was an outbreak of meningitis in Kano, the government was helpless; but my organisation flew in vaccines within 24 hours.
“If there was an NGO agency, we wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he added.
The NGO Bill seeks the establishment of non-governmental organisations regulatory commission for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of non-governmental organisations and civil society groups among others and for related matters.
Part of Falana’s statement reads, “I urge Speaker Dogara to reject entirely the bill as it falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, in particular, Section 40 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The bill allows government authorities to de-register local and international associations and NGOs if they consider them as not working in the ‘national interest’.
“Government can similarly deny registration on the vague grounds that the purpose and goal of the associations or NGOs are ‘inconsistent with the programmes of government’. Associations and NGOs operating without registration in Nigeria will face criminal liability.
“The excessively broad and vague provisions and administrative discretion given to the authorities in regulating the work of community associations, labour unions, NGOs and other civil society groups can be wielded as tools to intimidate, and even suppress, dissenting views and opinions in the country.
“The bill places undue restrictions on the right to freely associate, which is a fundamental freedom and essential component of democracy, as recognised by the UN Human Rights Council.
“Should the bill be passed into law, I will vigorously challenge it in court on the grounds of its unconstitutionality and incompatibility with Nigeria’s international and regional human rights obligations and commitments.”