By Umar Muhammad Puma
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have rejected a Bill seeking to regulate foreign donations and utilisation by foreign agencies to voluntary organisations.
The Bill, which passed for a second reading in the House, was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Mbadiwe (APC, Imo), and seeks for the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to be the regulatory authority for the purpose of implementing it.
It also provided that voluntary organisations should not accept contributions without permission, give information to regulatory ICPC, apply for permit, maintain an account and forfeit fund when found guilty.
According to the Bill, “Whoever accepts or assists any person, voluntary organisation in accepting any foreign financial contribution, in contravention of any provision of this Bill or any rule made thereunder, shall be punished with imprisonment for two years.”
But a coalition of the NGOs, who attended the one-day hearing by the House Committee on NGOs and Donor Agencies, stated that the Bill violates the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter of the African Union (AU).
The group, under the aegis of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said the Bill also contravenes several treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory. “The Bill lacks understanding of CSOs and voluntarism. It seeks to police and profile CSOs as suspects,” noted Clement Nwankwo, who presented the coalition’s view.
He added that “the Bill awakens in us the dark days of militarism under which activists were attacked. It will imperil the work of the third sector and if passed, it will scuttle NGO activities and negatively impact on the country’s development in areas such as Roll-back malaria programme and HIV/AIDS management, among others.
Eze Onyekwere, of the Centre for Social Justice, whose group made a separate presentation, towed the line of the coalition’s argument. He observed that there is no need for the bill as all it seeks to do are being done.
He listed these as NGOs registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), filing of annual reports, report of expenditures above $1000 and making information about them available to government.
“The Bill is not necessary, as the ICPC is overwhelmed by its current functions. And it is also under-funded. How will it work if this responsibility is added to it?” Onyekwere queried, emphasizing that “the omnibus clause is reminiscent of Abacha and his days.”
Similarly, Emenike Osadolor, who spoke on behalf of Business and Professional groups in Nigeria, criticised the Bill, saying it is unnecessary.