Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN has called on the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara to “immediately drop the draft bill aiming to regulate and monitor the activities of all civil society organizations and labour unions in the country as the bill unequivocally threatens the very existence of a free and independent civil society in Nigeria.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill in Abuja on 13 and 14 December 2017. The HB585 bill is a bill for an act to provide for the establishment of non-governmental organisations regulatory commission for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, etc., in Nigeria and for related matters.
Falana said ahead of the public hearing that, “This is perhaps the worst piece of legislation in Nigeria’s history. Under the bill, any civil society group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance can be shut down and criminalized. The bill if passed will ultimately have a disastrous impact on Nigerian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their own country.”
Falana’s statement read in part: “I urge Speaker Dogara to reject entirely the Bill as it falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, in particular Section 40 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”
“The bill allows government authorities to de-register local and international associations and NGOs if they consider them as not working in the “national interest.” Government can similarly deny registration on the vague grounds that the purpose and goal of the associations or NGOs are “inconsistent with the programmes of government.” Associations and NGOs operating without registration in Nigeria will face criminal liability.”
“The excessively broad and vague provisions, and administrative discretion given to the authorities in regulating the work of community associations, labour unions, NGOs and other civil society groups can be wielded as tools to intimidate, and even suppress, dissenting views and opinions in the country. The bill places undue restrictions on the right to freely associate, which is a fundamental freedom and essential component of democracy, as recognized by the UN Human Rights Council.”
“Should the bill be passed into law, I will vigorously challenge it in court on the grounds of its unconstitutionality and incompatibility with Nigeria’s international and regional human rights obligations and commitments.”