The Nigerian NGO Bill: Much Ado about Nothing or Much Ado for Something

The 20th and the 21st centuries have witnessed the creation of various Non-Governmental organizations and civil society organizations. Their presence has been largely effective in making the world a better place to live in.

According to, "an NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level." It furthers the definition by saying it is "task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizens concern to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information."

Some have argued the narrowness of the above definition, but for this discussion it is fitting. What started out as a campaign against the death penalty in 1961 is today, Amnesty International. The impact of this NGO has been far reaching as it has been the loudest international voice against human right abuses and repressive legislation in many countries of the world. This NGO is always the first to put a foot on government's neck to withdraw an oppressive policy or move.

Transparency International is another NGO. No corrupt government would ever want this NGO to be active in her territory. The NGO never relents in publishing and publicizing to the whole wide world the rankings of corrupt countries. Nigeria has had her name published severally as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to an Article by Punch, Nigeria was ranked in 2016, 136 out of 176 countries! We're still all the way down.

I purposefully brought out these two to depict the important roles NGOs play in ensuring adherence to human rights and accountability of government. There are several NGOs doing what government cannot do or has failed to do. Some NGOs use their personal money to take care of orphaned children and homeless people. A friend and colleague of mine started one with the purpose of catering for orphaned kids and kids begging on the streets. The NGO is run by membership subscriptions.

The Nigerian House of Representatives has chosen to pass the NGO bill which shall regulate the activities of NGOs and CSOs (Civil Societies Organization). The question that comes to mind is "why?"

Hon Umar Buba Jubril, the member of the House who sponsored the bill, gave reasons for the Bill in an Interview with Premium Times. He said NGOs and CSOs are supposed to be partners in progress with the Government – they are registered to partner with the Government to fill gaps whenever they exist.

He further stated that NGOs solicit for funds for Nigerians and get billions sent to them. He went on by picking on the issue of expatriates employed to run some of the organizations by stating that lots of abuses occur. (What he meant by abuses, I don't understand.) Throughout the interview, he kept reiterating accountability and transparency.

On a critical approach, classifying NGOs and CSOs as partners with the government is not that simple and straight. The multiplicity of these organizations is not only in numbers but also in goals, functions and objectives. As some are human rights oriented, some others look into women empowerment. An organization like Amnesty International cannot be a partner with government; its role is that of a watchdog keeping government on her toes.

Some NGOs solicit funds; some don't. It would amount to the fallacy of hasty generalization to conclude that all NGOs solicit for funds. Like I earlier mentioned, some rely on members' contributions and subscriptions and volunteering, some others can afford to run their NGOs with their personal money.

Lastly on the issue of expatriates running NGOs, the infinitesimal amount of expatriates running NGOs in Nigeria should not be a cause for concern.

Though expatriates, there are no special laws currently for any waiver for NGOs. So, as long as an expatriate fulfills all the laws applicable, there should be no problem.

I however sense the concern as to creation of jobs if expatriates are not allowed and the Regulatory NGO Commission is established. The few vacancies that will be open if expatriates are not allowed will do virtually nothing in reducing unemployment in Nigeria. The Commission however can create jobs but it is not the only avenue for job creation in this country. There are several tracts of land that need cultivation – government
can employ much more if they are so passionate about unemployment.

On the issue of accountability and transparency, I believe charity begins at home and should indeed start from the House. That notwithstanding, there are several other ways to track those who set up phony organizations to solicit funding. If internet fraudsters with their brilliance can be tracked down, then these fellows should not be more problematic. It will
amount to a flimsy excuse to stop the enormous good work done by NGOs because of the need to ensure transparency and accountability.

If this bill is passed and the commission is set up, it will be at a great expense. Many NGOs may not make registration thus making their activities illegal if they continue to run. The procedure set out in the Bill for registration is cumbersome and discouraging. More, it leaves these organizations at the mercy of government. The Bill provides for annual renewal of registration.

There is no NGO bill in the United States or in the United Kingdom. Developed countries of the world don’t see the need for this. They believe that the laws governing the activities of citizens are also effective in regulating NGOs. Except the much ado about this Bill is for repression and oppression, the much ado is about nothing. Nigeria does not need this bill.

If our legislators want to justify their huge pay, there are so many beneficial bills rotting in the shelves of the House, they should pass those.

Fellow Nigerians, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” as said by Thomas Jefferson – this is what some of these NGOs are giving us.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela.

By John 'Kela' Ajayi,
A concerned citizen.

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