CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS AT RISK

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Amina: I just heard that there is a draft bill before the National Assembly which seeks to regulate civil society organisations CSOs and also limit their sources of funding.

It sounds strange in a democracy but could be real. The attempt to stifle the press is happening before our very eyes with soldiers waylaying newspaper distribution vans and confiscating copies of their publications. This has never happened even in a military dictatorship.

Yemisi: Yes, I heard something about a proposed CSO Bill but it is very important to confirm it first and then spread the news to all concerned.

Ikenna: I heard about it and two coalitions of CSOs, Lawyers Alert and the Freedom of Information Coalition circulated it to their internet contacts. I saw it in my box but did not open it. I will forward to all.

Amina: Ikenna thanks for sharing this controversial bill with us. It is a disaster. Am speechless.

Yemisi: What is the content of the bill?

Amina: The title of the Bill is ‘An Act to Regulate The Acceptance and Utilisation of Financial/Material Contribution of Donor Agencies to Voluntary Organisations.’ It is sponsored by one Honourable Eddie Ifeanyichukwu Mbadiwe.

Ikenna: As I said, I have not read it. From the title, one knows it is a sinister bill. I shudder to hear the content.

Amina: Yes it is a gag bill that seeks to regulate flow of funds to CSOs and states that ‘no voluntary organization shall accept foreign financial/material contribution except with the permission of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission ICPC.’

Yemisi: What has the ICPC got to do with CSOs funding when the donors have not complained that their grant was not stolen?

Amina: It states that ‘ No person shall accept gifts except it is reported to ICPC and all CSOs are affected because the Bill states that all voluntary organisations having a defined cultural, economic, educational, religious or special programmes cannot accept contributions from donor agencies.’

Ikenna: So this means donor can only work with government!

Amina: No but there is a criteria for CSOs who want to receive donor funds. The Bill states that in order to qualify, voluntary organisations must register with the ICPC and agree to ‘receive such contributions only through one of the branches of a Nigerian bank as it may specify in application for such funding.’

Ikenna: The truth, like Seven Up is clear. Bureaucracy will make it almost impossible for CSOs to get funds. What public interest is the Bill supposed to serve?

Amina: From the tone of the Bill, it wants to strengthen all those core values to which all subscribe. Wait for it! ICPC may prohibit CSOs from receiving funding if it will affect the ‘sovereignity and integrity of Nigeria’, result in ‘adverse diplomatic relations with any foreign country’ or affect ‘religious harmony in Nigeria.’

Ikenna: So who decides what affects our sovereignty, and does the government have the integrity to scan CSOs when it has just arrived at a scandalous re definition of what constitutes stealing and corruption? Not to talk of the impunity on issues of corruption by high level personalities.

Amina: ICPC will also have the power to inspect use of grants, punish whoever accepts or assists any person to obtain foreign funds with two years imprisonment. ICPC will also seize funds that contravene any of the provisions of the act.

Oyebisi: Unbelievable! Our first action is to promote networking among all stakeholders. We should all review this gag bill and share widely within our networks. We should also draft a joint statement and issue it as a press release expressing our objection to this proposed bill.

Ikenna: A friend from Lawyers Alert just informed me that there is a public hearing on the proposed Bill in July 2014.

Amina: Yes, there is a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives on July 2 2014. The venue is Conference Room 231 of the National Assembly.

Yemisi: This gagging of CSOs exists in some countries with varying level of toxicity. Ethiopia has a law restricting outside funding to 10%. Given our funding structure in Nigeria, this would be disastrous. How do we ensure this bill dies?

Barbara: I have an experience with the Ethiopian CSO Regulation which empowers a government agency to monitor inflow and out flow of funding for Local CSOs, and restriction to 10% foreign is yet another issue.

 An application has been submitted to the African Commission seeking a declaration of violation of freedom of association. The law restricts issues of human rights to local CSOs. These affected the operation of most CSOs, with one of the largest Human rights CSOs having its assets frozen till date. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the government agency.

Oyemisi: What we need to do now is to embark on advocacy to ensure it is not passed, because once that is done it will be difficult to control. Kenya also has one, though their application is not as restrictive as the one in Ethiopia’.

Amina: While this Bill is an ill wind that blows no one any good, it is worth noting that Nigeria is one country that does not need donor funds. In some African countries, donor fund is up to a quarter of their budget but all the donor funds we receive in Nigeria amounts to less than 2 percent of our national budget! Our big problem is pervasive corruption. If public officers do not steal the funds and the budget is implemented faithfully we can forget donor funds.

Isa: I have listened to all this with disgust. CSOs must resist this obnoxious Bill. Equally important, let’s stop the looting of our funds and recover what is stashed abroad. Tomorrow is June 25, 2014; the Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein is billed to return 167 million euro ($227 million) to Nigeria, being part of the looted funds recovered from General Sani Abacha’s family. The Abacha family is suspected of holding on to money looted from Nigeria to the tune of about $2.2 billion.

Amina: We should also insist on getting back the outstanding N 446.3 billion that Mohammed Abacha is alleged to be holding and condemn the Federal Government’s recent withdrawal of the N446.3bn theft charges instituted against him. It is the height of impunity.

Isa: We should also demand that the Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke and officials of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) account for the $20 billion unremitted crude oil revenue to the Federation Account as revealed by the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

 

Source:-Hajiya Amina mni-: http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/opinion/27739-civil-society-organisations-at-risk

 

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