Odinkalu insists: Everything about the proposed NGO bill is flawed

Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), says the proposed Non-Governmental Organisations Regulation Bill currently being considered by the National Assembly is flawed right from the first section.

Odinkalu made the comments on Tuesday during AIT’s Focus Nigeria, insisting that churches, mosques and even social clubs such as the Ikoyi Sports Club, Lagos, are all part of organisations captured in the proposed bill.

He wondered why the legislators want to establish another commission to regulate NGOs and place more debt burden on the government.

“The bill is flawed from section one sub-section one,” Odinkalu said. “You are proposing to create a new NGO board and voluntary council, all of them as charges on the public purse. We can’t pay our workers and we are creating more boards. Are we okay?

“We are in a situation in which people in our essential services cannot draw salaries. We have states that are owing people over 10 months of salaries, 12 months of salaries and we are proposing to create another public body that will be a charge on a country that cannot pay its bills — you want me to keep quiet? Are we serious people?

“I chair the governing council of the National Human Rights Commission, we did not have staff to do our programming, we did not have money.

“We get a budget of N1.3 billion, N1.25 billion was for overheads and salaries, the rest was to service things related to overheads and salaries, not a dime to do the programming that mattered. Why do we do this to ourselves? So it begins from there.”

Odinkalu also pointed out that according to the proposed bill, the NGO regulatory commission would be made up largely of people whose appointments will be approved by the President, with only three representatives from NGOs, an arrangement he said is not balanced.

“This body will be made up of 20 people, including the Executive Secretary, appointed by the President, the Chair appointed by the President,” he said.

“You will have nine people representing different ministers, who are appointees of the President, on this board, so there is an in-built presidential majority.

“And of course, six persons of proven integrity to be appointed from the six geo-political zone will be appointed by the President. So this thing is a governmental entity owned by the President.

“If you noticed, the Chair (of the commission) is not required to be a person of proven integrity, the Executive Secretary is not required to be a person of proven integrity, the nine people representing the ministers are not required to be persons of proven integrity.

“It is only the people from the six geo-political zones that will be persons of proven integrity but the people representing the ministers, where is the requirement of proven integrity for them? So we presume that if you are representing a minister, you are already of proven integrity?

“These people can determine what happens to you [as an NGO], give you licence and all that.”

Odinkalu pointed out that Section 11 (1) of the proposed bill provides that all NGOs must be registered, but sub-section four of the same section empowers the commission to “exempt such NGO from registration as it may determine”.

He said that the clause would empower the commission to “target some people”.

Proponents of the NGO regulatory bill have often referred to a similar bill, which was signed into law recently by the Kenyan Government, saying that Nigeria’s case is not an isolated one. But Odinkalu said South Africa’s version of the law is different and better than Kenya’s, which Nigerian lawmakers copied almost verbatim.

    “There is a different model (of the NGO regulatory bill) which is the South African Not-for-profit Organisations Act, which deals with a whole body of issues,” Odinkalu said.

    “That model addresses governance of fiscal regimes and taxation, making sure that there’s sufficient governance and transparency in trusts to make sure that they are not used to evade tax or used to fund politics unlawfully. That is different model. That’s closer to the UK charities’ commission.

    “The Kenyan and Angolan models is what these guys have tried to introduce and that is why I am saying that it is very dangerous.

    “I was there at the beginning of the Kenyan model, I have seen it in different African countries, I have represented people who have been proscribed or sought to be proscribed under these laws in different African countries and I am saying that I’ve got to give my country the benefit of that expertise and experience. I have a duty to, because knowledge comes with responsibility.”

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