The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill sponsored by Umar Buba Jibril in the House of Representatives is another attempt to create a new layer of bureaucracy in the name of ‘coordinating and supervising’ civil society organisations. The draft bill has three objectives: “(a) to enable and encourage Non-governmental Organisations and Civil Societies to accomplish their missions according to the law; (b) to ensure the transparency and accountability of the operations of Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies; and (c) to supervise Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies to ensure that they operate according to the law.”
Inherent in these objectives is the presupposition that many NGOs and CSOs in the country fall short of transparency and accountability requirements, and that they do not obey some of our laws. If this is the sense that the House of Representatives intents to communicate in its enthusiasm to pass the bill into law, then the efforts being invested in it is, to say the least, being wasted. Government agencies that benefit from donations from Foundations abroad, based on recent reports, are more culpable in the mismanagement of such funds and naked corruption in reporting and retiring expenditures. For instance, The Global Fund and Gavi Vaccines Alliance raised allegations of fraud in the management of grants to agencies under the Ministry of Health, but not NGOs. The National Assembly should have investigated the allegations and recommended the prosecution of the civil servants involved in the alleged fraud. But the lawmakers did not.
Apart from the impression that NGOs in Nigeria are corrupt, the functions of the Board of the proposed ‘Commission’ are bogus. It includes (a) “to facilitate and co-ordinate the work of all national and international Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria; (b) to maintain the register of national and international Non-Governmental Organisations operating in Nigeria, with the precise sectors, affiliations and locations of their activities; (c) to receive and discuss the annual reports of the Non-Governmental Organisations;…(f) to provide policy guidelines to the Non-Governmental Organisations for harmonizing their activities to the national development plan of Nigeria…” The question is, can the Commission actually carry out these activities?
It is noteworthy that these functions snake into the roles that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has the constitutional powers to perform. The CAC is vested with the powers to monitor and regulate the activities of NGOs, to ensure that they do not deviate from the objectives and that they are above board. If the CAC is not performing these roles, it is essential to give them a wake-up call, possibly amend the Act of the Agency to give it enough muscle to perform the roles. To task of supervising NGOs can be done effectively without the establishment of another Commission, at a time when there is a loud call for downsizing the number of MDAs in Nigeria.
The most vibrant argument in support of the Bill came from its sponsor, Jubril. The lawmaker claimed that some “NGOs and CSOs solicit for funds from all over the world and collect billions of naira on behalf of Nigerians; …they recruit expatriates to help them run their activities in the country with lots of abuses; some people registered NGOs, solicited for funds and disappeared. That happened recently in the North-East; and some NGOs are used to fund the activities of terrorists and insurgents.” Clearly, these issues should be within the capacity of the CAC and anti-corruption agencies, like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Police Force, to handle. The proposed NGOs Commission does not have the powers to prosecute bad eggs in the civil society community. If any of them violates the laws under which they operate, such NGOs should make to face anti-corruption agencies. Those involved in subversive or terrorist activities should be arrested and made to face treason and criminal charges.
Setting up a ‘Commission’ to do all these is a waste of time and resources.