Kukah, Odinkalu, CSOs Take Anti-NGO Bill Protest To N’Assembly

By John Ameh and Adelani Adepegba

Non Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations protested on Wednesday in Abuja and asked the House of Representatives to trash a proposed bill to regulate NGOs and CSOs in the country.

 Prominent personalities, including the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, The Most. Rev. Matthew Kukah, and popular human rights activist, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu also asked the House to stop the consideration of the bill.The House Committee on Civil Society and Development Partners, on Wednesday, conducted a public hearing on the bill.

The committee is chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Edo State, Mr. Peter Akpatason.

PIC.23. SENATE CHAMBER DURING THE INAUGURATION OF THE 8TH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY (9/6/15). 3023/9/6/2015/CH/BJO/NAN
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The NGO bill seeks to regulate the activities of NGOs and CSOs by establishing a commission, a governing board and making provisions for the registration and licensing of NGOs.

But as the hearing opened at the National Assembly, hundreds of members of civil society groups and NGOs stormed the venue, demanding that the bill must be stopped.

Hundreds more, who could not gain access into the premises of the National Assembly, protested at the Federal Secretariat and along the busy Shehu Shagari Way in the heart of Abuja.

Inside the venue, representatives of the NGOs and CSOs made presentations to the committee. The summaries of the presentations were essentially the same; they asked that the organisations be allowed to operate without stifling regulations.

They noted that the proposed bill, if passed, would infringe on the rights of Nigerians to freedom of speech.

 Kukah, who lent his voice to the protest, reminded the lawmakers of the role the CSOs played in returning the country to democratic governance in 1999.The Catholic bishop also observed that Nigerians would have been happier if the National Assembly got itself busy with ensuring that institutions of government, had failed in performing their duties, woke up.

He said, “There has to be a convergence of ideas between the political class and the citizens and I stand with the CSOs very firmly.

“We have enough laws in Nigeria to cover every aspect of our national life. The intentions of the bill may be right but we should channel our energies to other things.”

The Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Dr. Clement Nwankwo, also supported the positions of the CSOs and NGOs.

“The consensus of the CSOs is that there are enough laws in Nigeria today to guide their operations and that there is no need for this new law. Millions of Nigerians are against this bill.

“If the sponsor of the bill is saying the situation in the North-East influenced this bill, the North-East Development Commission Bill has been passed and it will address his concerns.

“The position of CSOs on this bill is a resounding no,” Nwankwo said.

The NGOs and CSOs had cited the Companies and Allied Matters Act; CAC Act; and the Federal Inland Revenue Service Act as some of the existing laws regulating their activities.

The Coordinator, Health Sector Reform Coalition, Mike Egboh, observed that the bill would introduce bureaucracy in the delivery of life-saving services during emergencies.

He noted that a situation where the NGOs would have to report to a commission in Abuja or seek approval before it could move into localities in urgent need of humanitarian aid, “millions of children and women would certainly have been dead already.”

All the 34 international NGOs offering humanitarian services in the North-East opposed the bill.

Their umbrella body, Nigeria INGO Forum, told the session that the bill was completely against the principles of humanitarian services.

The Director of the forum, Jennifer Jalovec, stated, “We stand in solidarity with the CSOs of Nigeria. The bill will affect the life-saving services we render in Nigeria.”

Other bodies such as the Transition Monitoring Group; Empower54; and Human Rights Initiative for Good Governance, also opposed the bill.

Remarkably, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning also opposed the bill, saying the proposed NGO commission would duplicate its functions and the roles of some agencies.

As speakers demanded that the bill be “killed,” a worried Akpatason asked, “Is there anybody here who wants to speak for the bill?”

He looked round the venue and realised that no hand was raised in support of the bill. There was also silence.

Akpatason told the participants that the essence of the public hearing was to guide the House to gauge the feelings of Nigerians.

Akpatason assured the participants that the committee would collate their views and report the findings to the House in plenary.

Meanwhile, a coalition of civil society groups, also on Wednesday, stormed the National Assembly in Abuja to protest the move by lawmakers to regulate the NGOs.

The protesters, who were led by Odinkalu, were however denied entry as security operatives shut the gates.

The protesters, clad in shirts bearing ‘#NoToNGOBill, chanted songs to express their rejection of the bill.

Odinkalu condemned the proposed bill, saying it was an attempt to muzzle civic groups which he said had made the government to be accountable to the citizenry.

“The evidence is clear that the proposed bill is an attempt to utilise regulation to stifle and obstruct the working of civil society organisations in Nigeria; it is also an insidious attempt to provide grounds to disrupt democratic accountability and prosecute organisations on trumped up charges and allegations,” the activist said.

The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, and a fellow of the centre, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, in a joint statement, stated that the bill was meant to castrate the civil society, restrict civil space and block the work of human rights organisations in the country.

Source: punchng.com

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