If you are a Nigerian and you have not read the NGO bill (attached below) you are missing out on an important national discourse. Find 15 minutes to read this bill completely. It is not difficult to understand. Read the entire bill. At the beginning, they make the bill look like it is all about checking fraudulent activities of NGOs and the use of funds for terrorist activities.
In a recent statement signed by the house deputy majority leader, Umar Buba Jibril (who happens to be the sponsor of the bill), the Aso Rock agent said that the “bill is to ensure Transparency and Accountability in the ways and manners the NGOs collect money and use them for Nigerians.” (Buba Jibril: http://www.nta.ng/news/politics/20170922-house-of-reps-clears-the-air-on-ngo-regulation-bill/). He did not talk about the very toxic parts of the bill.
The ultimate goal of this bill is not to ensure accountability and transparency. This bill cannot stop funds from getting to terrorist groups. We know where Boko Haram funds come from. “In 2011, the Federal Government set up the Gaji Galtimari panel to look into the insecurity in the North-East. “The Gaji Galtimari panel reported in September 2011. What they found out is that the people supporting Boko Haram were in government. They were in politics, they were identified. There was a white paper issued on the Gaji Galtimari committee report, nobody has been brought to book. Those people are still there in government.” (Chidi Odinkalu: https://www.channelstv.com/2017/09/22/ngo-bill-odinkalu-disagrees-with-nass-claim-of-curbing-terrorism/)
If this bill is about accountability and transparency, we have EFCC, CAC and several other government agencies to deal with this. We do not need another commission to deal with this. I laugh when I hear some people say it will check abuse of funds by NGOs. Wait until the bill sails through, then the president will appoint his cousin to be the secretary. And the real abuse of funds will start.
This bill is about controlling and regulating free speech and the activities of NGOs and Churches, the only sectors not under government control in Nigeria at this time. Abuja controls the States via monthly allocation. That’s why most State governors are boot lickers.
Abuja has not been able to control Churches and NGOs – the only voices that criticize them. With the NGO bill, Abuja will gain control over them. The section on mandatory registration of Non- Governmental organizations with the proposed commission means that any organization that is NOT a government organization must register with the commission. These include age grades, old boys associations, women groups, Transparency International, etc. Just about any organization that is not a government organization besides businesses. Technically, the Churches fall into this category, though Buba is excluding Churches: his evil way of silencing Church leaders, just as PMB told us two years ago that “He will be for everyone and for no one.” Unsuspecting citizens fell for him. Now, where are we today? Church leaders, do not listen to Buba! This bill will affect your Churches someday, directly or indirectly.
One can say, well, what is wrong with registering organizations. But just a few paragraphs thereafter, the bill now wants every organization to submit their projects for approval before such projects can be executed. This means that all old boys associations must go to Abuja for clearance before they can do little things like repainting their schools. Women associations would need clearance from Abuja to execute projects such as sinking boreholes in their communities. Age grades must get clearance from Abuja to execute projects such as buying band set for primary schools in their towns. But that’s not all. Every two years, these age grades, women groups, etc., must also go to Abuja to renew their registrations. Failure to do so may attract 18 months in jail.
Now think about an age grade in Umueze Amaimo, in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State, that manages to raise N150,000.00 for the purchase of band-set for their local primary school. The transportation to Abuja and back to submit the proposal would gulp the entire money. Of course, Nigeria being what it is, the government officials that work at that commission must ask for bribes for the project to be approved. Again, Nigeria being what it is, if your project may benefit Christians, a Muslim official may just not approve it and vice versa. They say you can go to court. In Nigeria? The backlog of serious cases may not even be dealt with in the next ten years, talkless of a case for your petty project. The court and attorney fees alone will be enough to discourage you.
Even if you manage to beat all these odds, the secretary of the commission can still deny your re-registration. That is why they want you to re-register every two years. So, if you criticize them, they will find something to deny your application. Think about it this way. As 2019 elections are approaching, some NGOs are planning to work hard to sensitize the people and monitor elections. If they know your NGO is outspoken, your project proposal to monitor the elections may not even be approved, even though they are not paying for it. If by chance they approve it and you report against them, wait until your NGO’s registration expires in the next two years. How about the passage on expatriates? Here I am thinking of those that do medical missions. This bill will simply frustrate them.
One would be a Saint to continue to function in this difficult situation. Many people will just give up and back out. But that is Abuja’s ultimate goal. To silence opposition. Sadly, the Nigerian masses will be the greatest losers as many NGOs will pack up and many human rights groups may leave. Then, Abuja will kill us and dance on our graves.
Rev. Fr. Dr. Godswill Agbagwa teaches Moral Theology at St. Mary’s University and Seminary in Baltimore. He holds M.A. in Legal and Ethical Studies as well as a doctorate in Moral Theology. He is the Founder and President of the Center for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics, a fast-growing international non-profit organization raising a new crop of African leaders and work-force imbued with the morals, excellent leadership skills and enterpreneurial spirit to facilitate development and end poverty in Africa. @GodswillAgbagwa; @csaaeinc