NGO bill: new law could undermine freedom of religion, cry Christian leaders
By Sam Eyoboka
Once again, the Christian community in Nigeria is in arms. This time, he alleges a subtle attempt to subvert the provisions of Article 38 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The attempt, she said, is through NGO bill C 2431 currently being drafted in the House of Representatives. The country’s umbrella organization for Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), wrote to the House of Representatives, asking it to immediately stop working on the bill, which was passed second reading and sponsored. by the Deputy Majority Leader, the Hon. Umar Jubril, on the grounds that he is “draconian in nature, retrograde in his intention and not in phase with the democratic ethics and the mantra of change of the current administration”.
THE Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, also rejected the bill, saying several NGOs affiliated with various Pentecostal ministries were studying the content with a view to challenging it.
It was only recently that CAN clashed with authorities over the Sukuk obligation which it claims is based on Sharia law.
Prior to that, he challenged the new curriculum introduced by the government, claiming there had been an attempt to remove Christian religious knowledge from the classroom.
In a position paper in the House of Representatives, in which he expressed his opposition to the NGO bill, CAN said the legislation will put all civilian groups under the control and oversight of a commission that will be put in place by the government, saying that “it is dangerous because it is a tool ready to suppress any undesirable organization, without the possibility of going to a court to rule on possible grievances.”
It listed organizations that matched the description of those that would be overseen by the proposed commission to include the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Heavenly Church of Christ, etc.
Noting that the draft law, in article 57, specifies that a non-governmental organization designates a private grouping of individuals or associations, not exploited for profit or other commercial purposes, but who are organized nationally or internationally for the promotion of social welfare, development, charity or research through resource mobilization, CAN explained that it would appear that the bill seeks to exempt political parties, organizations religious and ethnic societies.
“However, the wording of the bill is poor to the point of making it impossible to decipher the true intention of its drafters. The safe interpretation is to make it as elastic as possible, ”argued the Christian group.
“The Red Cross, the Red Crescent, Amnesty International, Médecins sans frontières, Human Rights Watch, the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation, the McArthur Foundation, Jimmy Carter, the Frederic Eibert Foundation, the Pathfinder Foundation, are some of these charitable organizations in the international space.
“In Nigeria, the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Heavenly Church of Christ, etc. are a few examples of such Christian faith based charities and nonprofits.
“The Ansarudeen Company, NASFAT, Anwarudeen, Jamat Nasir Islam, Nawalrudeen, etc. are Muslim charities.
“The charities named above are all known to make a massive contribution to the development of Nigeria in the following areas:
- Make peace, keep and maintain the peace.
- Education – through the construction of schools, universities, institutional strengthening and workforce development.
- Manifestation and propagation of religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
- Health – by building hospitals, health education, medicine and maternal and child care.
- Economic development – employment of Nigerians in their organizations and institutions
- Intervention in disaster relief and control.
- Social interventions – prison ministry, human trafficking, issues relating to children’s rights and other social vices.
- Electoral process and defense of human and citizen rights.
* Campaign for democracy
* Election monitoring groups
* Budget “.
He pointed out that the country already has legal frameworks that regulate the activities of NGOs, including the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Commercial Affairs Commission, the National Planning Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council. Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act.
“In view of the aforementioned existing statutory frameworks for the functioning of NGOs in Nigeria, it seems to us that having another body apart from those already existing is a duplication of efforts, unnecessary, and will lead to conflicts of interest. Therefore, the adoption of the NGO bill should cease immediately to avoid national embarrassment and chaos in the general interest of peace, harmony and advancement of our dear nation ”, said added CAN.
The Christian body has examined some of the provisions of the NGO bill “with the aim of highlighting and revealing the harm that the passage of the bill portends”, saying:
“Article 2 provides for a board of directors which is dominated by government officials and other persons appointed by politicians.
“Article 7, which sets out the objectives of the commission, goes too far because it is impossible to control the missions for which the commission is not aware, and at best has little or no knowledge.
“Article 8, which provides for the functions of the Board of Directors for the management of the commission, duplicates the functions of other bodies already in operation such as the Corporate Affairs Commission and the National Planning Commission.
“Articles 11 to 17 dealing with the registration of NGOs by the commission are silent on the status of the certificate of registration under the CAMA, except the reference to article 37 which does not expressly repeal the provisions of the Corporate Affairs and National Planning Commission Part C. There is likely to be some overlap in the operations of the above agencies if the bill is ultimately passed.
“Section 11 (4), which allows certain organizations to be exempt from registration, gives the commission wide discretion and can easily be abused by the commission to favor one organization over others.” .
Questions that require answers
CAN argued that given the broad discretion given to the commission to register or deny registration of NGOs, several questions call for answers.
He said: “Can a federal law nullify and invalidate a registration already obtained by an NGO under another federal law without repealing the existing provision?”
“What if a registered NGO, having fulfilled all registration requirements, paid all due fees and obtained a certificate, has to incur new costs on the same subject and the same processes?”
“Is the certificate of incorporation obtained under the bill superior to the certificate issued by the CAC or similar bodies?”
“What type of certificate is provided for under clause 11 (h) of the bill?”
“Do not Articles 13 (2) and (4) 18 (1) (a) (b) (c) conflict with the provision of Article 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ( as amended) which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association?
“Isn’t Article 13 (2) designed to muzzle ‘unpleasant’ voices such as Campaign for Democracy, etc., to prevent them from gaining legal recognition and expression?”
“Article 13 (5), which confers legal personality on a registered NGO, is silent on perpetual succession, while article 14 stipulates twenty-four months (that is to say 2 years) for the renewal of the license and certificate of incorporation of NGOs. This article also gives the commission absolute discretion to refuse to renew a certificate previously issued to an NGO without the possibility of going to court, since the Minister of the Interior has the final verdict on any appeal before him against the decision of the committee (see article 21 of the draft law). Yet section 51 provides for recourse to the courts.
CAN stressed that the bill, “which did not indicate the evil it seeks to repair, and at the same time contains far-reaching provisions in the administration and control of non-governmental organizations, can easily become a tool for dictatorial governments and politicians under the cloak of transparency and accountability ”.
According to the group, the definitive broad spectrum of organizations covered by the bill effectively encapsulates so much space that small groups, which are exempt, are minorities in the NGO playground, which invariably puts all groups civilians under the control and supervision of the commission to be set up.
“It is dangerous because it is a tool ready to crack down on any undesirable organization without the possibility of going to the court of law to rule on possible grievances,” CAN said.
“The provisions of the bill are contrary to sacred principles and constitutional provisions on the secularism of Nigeria as a nation.
“The bill, on the one hand, seeks to restrict the freedom of association guaranteed by Article 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and, on the other hand, amounts to in a subtle attempt to subvert the provisions of Article 38, which guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It should be noted that the African Charter on Human Rights, which has been domesticated in Nigeria, will also be violated by the provisions of this bill if enacted.
“The bureaucracy, bottlenecks and controls built into the bill will stifle and stifle the operations of NGOs and prevent them from fulfilling their mandates, thus endangering the several million Nigerians who benefit from these charitable projects,” that the government may, in fact, be unable to provide.
“The provisions of the bill, which seek to place charitable funds directly under the control of the government agency, will create hardship for charities and discourage donors from donating to causes they believe in.
“In addition, the provisions of the bill will duplicate the functions of existing government agencies and / or completely take over the functions of other government agencies, leading to confusion.
“The semi-annual registration of organizations contradicts the established principle of perpetual succession enjoyed by legal persons worldwide and discourages foreign donors from sponsoring NGOs in Nigeria.
“Official corruption, which has been the scourge of Nigeria, will gain in force with the adoption of this bill, because it criminalizes, on the one hand, certain behaviors on the part of NGOs and, on the other hand, protects commission agents from litigation in ordinary courts.
“The bill is draconian in nature, retrograde in intent, and out of step with the democratic ethics and mantra of change of the current administration.