Nigeria Human Rights Commission opposes controversial NGO bill

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, in Nigeria has written a letter to the National Assembly, stating its opposition to the controversial bill which seeks to establish a federal agency to supervise, coordinate and monitor Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations.

“The National Human Rights Commission is of the view that there is no need for the establishment of an NGO Regulatory Commission as most of the roles and functions ascribed to this ‘Commission’ in the proposed bill falls within the mandate of Corporate Affairs Commission and other Agencies referred to in the bill,” the NHRC stated in a letter it sent to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The letter, dated September 26, was signed by NHRC’s Director of Legal Services and Enforcement, Omodara Olaniyi.

The NHRC, however, went ahead to propose some amendments which it said the lawmakers should consider if they insist on passing the bill into law.

For instance, Section 15(C) of the bill states that the Governing Board of the NGO Regulatory Commission “may refuse to register an NGO if it is satisfied, on the recommendation of the Council, that the applicant should not be registered”.

The NHRC is of the opinion that the sub-section be expunged because it gives the council enormous powers to decide on which organisation to register or not and that it was subject to abuse.

The Commission also kicked against Section 17 of the bill which makes it mandatory for NGOs to renew their registration.

“This section is offensive and repugnant to the spirit of ease of doing business as marshalled out in the Executive Order signed by the Presidency and it is therefore unreasonable and should be removed,” the commission said.

The commission suggests that the duration of notice before the suspension or cancellation of an NGO’s certificate be made to be three months, instead of the two weeks in the proposed bill, in order to enable an organisation to have enough time to defend itself against any allegation.

The NHRC also kicked against Section 21 of the bill which makes “the minister” an appellate body with the power to confirm or upturn the decision of the Governing Council of the proposed commission.

The NHRC said “An aggrieved party should have a right of appeal in line with democratic principles and human rights, the minister should not be the final arbiter.”

In addition, the NHRC said that Sub-section 21 (4) which empowers the proposed regulatory body to dispose of the property of an NGO violates the constitutional right to own properties and should, therefore, be deleted.

The bill, which was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 2, 2016 by Umar Jibril, a lawmaker from Kogi State, has come under severe criticism from many Nigerians who see it as a ploy to stifle civil society groups and silence critical voices in the country.

The NHRC said the controversy surrounding the proposed bill has been of “monumental effect” which has prompted it to act “proactively” by suggesting the amendments.

“Any law enacted in Nigeria must be human rights compliant,” the NHRC said, adding that it was part of its mandate to ensure such compliance.