OPINION: THE CONTROVERSIAL NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (NGO) REGULATION BILL

by
Titi Omo-Ettu

I read the draft NGO Bill twice and did a third to study only the portions that are of interest to my initial interest. My initial interest arose from concerns that the operation and interests of a Professional Association to which I belong and which we have ordinarily regarded as an NGO, might be adversely affected if the draft Bill becomes Law.

Part A
For the purpose of that my initial interest, the most interesting section to me is PART VII - MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS, paragraph 57 where the definition of a NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION, for the purpose of the Bill, is provided.

Arising therefrom, my conclusion is that our Association, for the purpose of that draft Bill, is NOT an NGO.

For me, what is not STATED in Legislation is not INTENDED in Law, and I say that with no pretense to any expertise in Jurisprudence. It is common knowledge that this position has been canvassed and accepted in Court.

In SPIRIT and in WORDS of the draft Bill, the Association is not a candidate for registration by the intended Non-governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission.

(Using the same argument, I hold the opinion that churches and mosques, village-, community-, or professional Associations, do not come under the purview of the intended Non-governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission.

For purposes of argument, I will normally expect to see some key words which associate very closely to objective of associations that are intended to be regulated. For churches and mosques the word ‘spiritual’ is critical. For the professions, the word is ‘professional’. For community associations the word is ‘cultural’. All these are missing in the draft bill and they are, to that extent, and in my opinion, not included in the catchment group that the bill aims at.

Ordinarily, one should just stop here since the issue of interest is whether or not the Association's operations and interests are under any threat if the draft Bill becomes Law.

I suggest the Association seeks legal advice on the matter IF the subject poses sufficient concern.

For me, it does not.

Part B Having said that, concern about the draft bill is currently trending and having read it, I should have an opinion.

I therefore express the following views on the draft NGO Bill.

INTRO
I am old enough to be familiar with bandwagon effect of opinions that are traded by some privileged Nigerians who take advantage of massive illiteracy and inability of a large number of our citizens to read documents by themselves and thereby use sentiments of religion, tribe and class to sell dummies to the masses. In many cases, people criticize books they have not read, condemn opinions they have not heard and participate in protests that have no foundation.

NOW THE DRAFT BILL

1. WEAK COMMISSION
The composition of membership of the Board of the Commission makes it civil servants heavy. Eight of the nineteen members are representing various Federal Ministries. Although no specific skills or expertise are required of these representatives of the Federal Ministries nor of any of the other members, indeed a tenure of four years is attached to their stay on the Board renewable for another four and no more. All of them aside the executive Secretary are part-time. This makes it a Board that will be ineffective. Such ineffective Boards are usually used by Governments for ulterior purposes. Impliedly, this Commission has a high prospect of being used by Government to destroy any NGO of their choice even for no good reasons.

Of course, safeguards are provided but all based on a weak foundation.

2. MISCHIEF
A law scholar and Professor is known to have taken 5.5 minutes of a video clip, shared over social media recently to denounce and campaign against the draft Bill. I received 11 copies within 24 hours from various sources and contacts all preaching nothing but emotions. The Prof preaches vehemently to emotions such as religion, community interests, and humanitarianism to condemn the objective and modus operandi of the intended Commission and asks that Nigerians rise to oppose it. He says "it is totalitarian" and the "most dangerous piece of legislation to have come to the National Assembly since 1999".

These are mere exaggerations.

I have the experience of participation in canvassing argument against some intended legislation for use in my industry and after our technical presentation to the legislators, they bowed to our opinion. Some of such bills never went far. I expect the professor to do better than drawing ignorant masses to a battle they know nothing about.

Going by my own understanding, the bill does not regard churches, mosques or community associations as NGOs for its purpose contrary to what the professor preaches. The professor's method is, therefore, at best, unfair. He is merely taking advantage of Nigerians' gullibility especially knowing that many Nigerians cannot read and those who can read do not read. He sounds like merely playing TRANSFERED AGGRESSION in the sense that he may have other issues or motives that make him a self-made opposition to governance of the day.

3. UNDUE GRAGRA
A Senator of the Federal Republic has also issued a PRESS RELEASE condemning the object and spirit of the draft Bill while vowing to ’kill’ it when it comes to the Senate for concurrence.

This is mere theatre as he may as well use his position to stop the bill within the Senate process without playing to the gallery.

When did it become normal that a legislator who wants to ‘kill’ a bill first makes public his desire to do so through a press release! For God's sake go ahead to 'kill' and stop boasting.

4. AN ALBATROSS
The draft Bill is a certain albatross for NGOs that are appendages of foreign interests or donors whose mission might not have been salutary to Nigeria's all along. To the extent that several of the existing NGOs are in this class, nobody should expect the draft Bill to go without facing a bitter fight from that sector.

5. RIDICULOUS
It is reported that one NGO in particular has pushed it's objection to the draft Bill to the level of United Nations asking that the Nigerian legislature be stopped from passing the motion sought by the draft Bill into law. That is ridiculous.

It shows the extent of desperation of several NGOs who are bound to feel threatened by the proposed law.

6. ACCOUNTABILITY, NATIONAL INTEREST
I see the objective of the bill as salutary to the extent that it is asking that NGOs be accountable and to forestall Nigeria being vulnerable to ulterior machination of external forces that can destabilise our country through the use of poor but pampered NGOs.

7. NOT YET A GOOD DRAFT
While I sympathise with the objective of the proposed legislation I am unable to agree that the draft Bill has prepared genuine ground for meeting such laudable objective in concrete terms.

8. COULD BE BETTER
As is, we must see the draft bill as a shoddy job. A legislation that means well but poorly drafted should only be reworked and improved through the genuine process of wider consultation and public participation in law making. That I believe, our legislative process allows for.

September 26, 2017