Innovation for Change Hub Afrique: statement on draft Nigerian NGO Regulation Bill
Hub Afrique stands in solidarity with Nigerian civil society in calling for the withdrawal of repressive NGO Regulation Bill
- Proposed bill will stifle free speech, restrict political freedoms and threaten thousands of NGOs, religious institutions, unions, schools, community and voluntary organisations
- Threat to civil society across the continent, as similar draft legislation underway in Republic of Congo, Uganda, Egypt and Mauritania, and already in place in countries including Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia
JOHANNESBURG – Innovation for Change Hub Afrique joins the call from Nigerian civil society for the Government to withdraw its repressive draft NGO Regulation Bill (the Bill). Civil societies across Africa are mobilising ahead of public hearings in Abuja on the 13 and 14 December, conducted by the Nigerian Assembly House of Representatives Committee for Civil Society and Development Partners.
The anti-democratic law threatens to stifle freedom of speech, political activities and the ability to operate of thousands of Nigerian NGOs, religious institutions, unions, schools and community and voluntary organisations. The bill contradicts the Nigerian Constitution which enshrines the principles of free expression, assembly and association, and directly undermines 2016 commitments made by President Buhari under the Open Government Partnership to uphold the principles of co-creation and equal partnership between government and civil society.
Furthermore the Bill proposes the creation of a commission with which organisations would have to register. This is a waste scarce financial resources, as it risks duplicating existing regulations and laws that civil society organisations already have to abide by.
This type of restrictive legislation has become a widespread problem across Africa, with draft laws being proposed in Republic of Congo, Uganda, Egypt and Mauritania alongside laws already in place in countries including Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia.
Hub Afrique outgoing Board Chair, Charles Kojo Vandyck said, ‘Ordinary Nigerians, like many Africans, have sacrificed much to build and sustain their democracy. At this critical moment for the Nigerian people we must act together to ensure that we defend our fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly.
‘Hub Afrique stands in solidarity with civil society in Nigeria, and in all other countries currently living with or facing the threat of legal restrictions to NGOs, religious institutions, community organisations and media’.
A common feature of NGO laws is the establishment of Ministries or Commissions with sweeping powers to de-register an organisation if its activity is deemed not in the “public interest”. This is often part of a broader effort to discredit civil society organisations that seek to hold state and non-state actors to account.
A recent Democracy Works policy brief entitled ‘African Civil Society Under Fire’ details the extent of the spread of restrictive legislation:
- Republic of Congo government late last year proposed a law that will ban civil organisations from working on issues that are seen by the government as undermining “institutional stability”.
- Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, who has now been president since 1986, introduced what has been called the NGO Bill, which calls for imprisonment for NGO staff acting “prejudicial to the security of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda”
- Egypt has introduced new draft laws which according to the [former] United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai (2016), would curtail the right of NGOs to operate, stifle their ability to freely express themselves and turn them into a branch of government.
- Mauritania has introduced a draft law which requires NGOs to seek permission from government to operate, and allow the government to close down those who do register with severe punishments for transgressions.
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NOTE TO EDITORS
Background on the Nigerian NGO Regulation Bill
The NGO Regulation Bill proposes the creation of a federal agency responsible for the supervision, coordination and monitoring of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria. The NGO Regulatory Commission, would be headed by an Executive Secretary appointed by the President for five years and a 17-member Governing Board, led by a Chairman, all of whom shall also be appointed by the President. The Board will have powers to license all NGOs. Without the license of the Board, no NGO can operate. The license of the NGO Board alone (not registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission) will confer legal personality and perpetual succession on NGOs.
About Innovation for Change Hub Afrique
Hub Afrique, for provision of support to civil society, movements, and human rights defenders with cutting edge and responsive technical services, was conceived through a series of consultations at different levels to expand the shrinking civil society space. The consultations took place in various locations in Africa, bringing together different actors, civil society activists, HRDs, women’s representatives, advocates and community based activists. The consultations were attended by over 85 individuals from different backgrounds and different countries. The Africa Hub will be constituted of regional connectors that feed into the continental hub, but enjoying institutional autonomy, connected only with the provision of services.
The overall mission of Hub Afrique is to protect, respond, strengthen, expand and recover civil society space across Africa.
For further information and to request media interviews please contact Adi Mistry Frost Adi@innovationforchange.org
 Further background on restrictions to the operating environment for NGOs and civils society organisations read Democracy Works’ latest policy brief at https://democracyworks.org.za/policy-brief-16-african-civil-society-under-fire/