On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, the Nigerian House of Representatives dropped the controversial bill for ”An Act to Establish the Civil Society Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2020”. Sponsored by Senator Abass Tajudeen, the bill scaled through first reading in the first week of March 2020. Among other things, the bill aims to promote compliance by civil society constitutionees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of the administration of their civil societies, and also promote the effective use of civil society resources and enhancing accountability of civil societies to donors and beneficiaries and the general public.
The bill, which SPACES FOR CHANGE | S4C christened #NGOBill3, is the third major attempt to introduce a legislative proposal designed to impose additional regulatory measures on local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Nigeria. S4C’s comprehensive legal analysis of the bill showed that the draft statute grants unrestrained discretionary powers to the proposed regulatory body, the Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs) Regulatory Commission. Accordingly, there is a potential opportunity for misuse and a danger to liberty. Secondly, the proposed CSO Regulatory Commission duplicates the function of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) and the National Planning Commission (NPC).
Opposing the bill, Honorable Bamidele Salam argued that the bill is inconsistent with Section 40 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, which provides for free assembly. He further argued that there are existing regulatory bodies, such as the CAC, that provide oversight for the activities of civil society groups. He warned that the perception out there is that the parliament wants to muzzle civil society operations, and therefore, federal lawmakers should desist from taking any steps that gives credence to those suspicions.
Other parliamentarians, like Honorable Julius Ihonvbere and Honorable Nkem Abonta, joined Honorable Bamidele Salam to discredit the bill, citing similar reasons. After listening to the well-reasoned arguments of his colleagues, the sponsor of the bill, Hon. Tajudeen Abass stepped down the bill. Consequently, the bill failed to scale the second reading.
Dropping the bill represents a major victory for Nigerian civil society organizations pushing back state-led efforts to tighten the regulation of charitable operations in the country. As SPACES FOR CHANGE argued in its analytical paper on the bill, ”beyond the challenges, especially the wastage of scarce resources, associated with regulatory overlap, entrusting roles already performed by CAC and SCUML to an additional regulatory body is tantamount to an over-regulation of the civil society sector”.