" ITREALMS: Donor agency bill, another fang on civil societies - ITREALMS


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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Donor agency bill, another fang on civil societies - ITREALMS

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With the introduction of a bill for an Act to Establish Donor Agencies Regulatory Commission; and for Related Matters (HB. 1568), REMMY NWEKE writes that the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is becoming a house for one-week, one obnoxious bill, despite the abortion of civil society bill.

The last may not have been heard about the much aborted civil society bill at the National Assembly (NASS) as a new bill surfaced recently with fangs on donor agencies and by extension, on the non-governmental and civil society organisation in the country.

Penultimate Wednesday, there was a news alert on the second reading of the bill for an Act to Establish Donor Agencies Regulatory Commission; and for Related Matters (HB. 1568) at the National Assembly and precisely at the House of Representatives, made its way to the floor for second reading on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, according to the Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NN-NGOs).

This bill, it was reported, is being promoted by Rep. Unyim Idem, a member, Federal House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom State and represents Oruk Anam / Ukanafun Federal constituency under the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

Idem who moved for the second reading of the Bill on that day, was seconded by Rep. Jerry Alagbaoso, and said that the Bill seeks to establish the regulatory commission to strengthen donor agencies and their capacity to effect positive change.

He commended donor agencies who have continued to aid Nigerians in such important sectors as healthcare delivery and poverty alleviation, but stressed the need to account for the finances coming into the country and how they are expended by receiving agencies and bodies. He also invited House members to support the establishment of the donor agencies regulation commission to track the application of such funds.

Those in support ...:
This obnoxious bill was invariably supported by the duo of Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila and his deputy, Rep. Ahmed Idris among others, but hear them.

Gbajabiamila who called for members to also look at what the Bill seeks to cure, such as tracking funds coming in and what such funds are used for, stated that even the donors will be happy to see that their donations are used for what they were purposed for.

For Rep. Idris, who pointed out at some shady actions of some agencies that benefit from these funds and contribute to factors that ensures problems persist for such funds to keep coming in. He, however, commended some sincere NGOs, insisting on the need to have a regulatory policy to ensure sanity on the acquisition and utilization of such funds.

Also, Rep. Ahmed Jaha applauded the spirit of the Bill as the actions of some Civil Society Organizations fall short of criminality. He called on beneficiary agencies to make their accounts public, maintaining that duplication of activities of these agencies tend to fool international donors.

Jaha insisted on the need for effective regulation of these agencies and enjoined other members to look critically at the true intention of the Bill and support it.

Those against ...
Speaking against the Bill, Rep. Nicholas Ossai noted that money from donors is granted to different agencies and for different purposes, and over-regulation may constitute bureaucratic bottlenecks between agencies.

Kicking against the bill, Rep. Nkem Abonta, said the vagueness of the facts in the Bill such as it claiming it has no financial implications on Nigeria is worrisome. Pointing out that the Bill if passed will bring retrogression to the Nigerian economy, and wondered how the Bill will want to regulate donor agencies under the United Nations, which he said is sure to even scare them away.

Equally, Rep. Chinyere Igwe, said the Bill is against the natural rights of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and should be jettisoned by House members.

While adding his voice against the bill, Rep. Wole Oke, said, there are already government platforms that deal with what the Bill seeks to achieve and that if passed, would amount to duplication of functions of agencies.

He also stated that the government of the day has always tried to promote the fact that donations to the nation is critical even as a means of contributing to the budget.

Outcome of proceeding:

The Bill was voted on, approved for second reading and referred to the House Committee on Civil Society and Development Partners.

Legal opinion:
A legal practitioner who asked for anonymity shared some legal opinion when contacted and asserted that it appeared the so-called bill for an Act to Establish Donor Agencies Regulatory Commission; and for Related Matters (HB.1568) is a cousin of the abandoned Civil Society Regulation Bill.

First, he said, it is a restriction on the right to association, which means that prima facie, it is likely to violate constitutional right. Pointing out that since most viable NGOs rely on donor funds, it will strangulate civil society and lead it to extinction.

Between the Constitution and 2020 Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) especially Chapter C20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria; hence this matter is already dealt with.

In addition, our source, informed that National Planning Commission (NPC), already carries out all that this new Commission is expected to do, thus, “Under the Doctrine of Covering the field, a new Commission for the same purpose is superfluous.”

He called to mind that Civil Society encompasses professional groups and religious organisations, maintaining that the impact on professionalism in the absence of donor funds will be devastating. So, the possibility of infringing on right to religion is real as far as this obnoxious bill is concerned.

Further, our source wondered if donor agency was defined in the Bill so as to distinguish between funds from foreign individuals and or organisations were captured to mean donor money “is a different matter entirely,” insisting, the bill should not be supported.

Whilst applauding the Nigerian Network of-NGOs for keeping good watch over the National Assembly, legislative watchers are worried that almost every now and then, there would be one untoward piece of legislature on the prowl.

An instance was just before end of last year, the same National Assembly hurriedly fixed a public hearing, despite having officially closed for the year, on Friday, December 23rd in the bid to have another objectionable 2022 bill to repeal the 2007 National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) scale through second reading; which has been largely figured out to have over 20 sections of overlaps with the National Communications Act 2003 which mandates rest with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as telecommunications regulator.

Despite the fact the Bill was promptly voted on, approved for second reading and referred to the House Committee on Civil Society and Development Partners, its obvious, largely the existing structures are already performing the functions expected from this offensive bill for establishment of Donor Agency Regulatory Commission.

Coupled with visible duplication of regulatory functions and attendant confusion, industry watchers are of the opinion that the National Assembly should strengthen and expand the existing ones, including NCC and NPC to name a few, rather than serial attempts to create a new regulatory bodies, through backdoor access, which have been the lot in recent times of this current National Assembly, thereby leaving out myriads of problems that deserve legislative attention in this country capable of alleviating the hash economic conditions facing Nigerians.

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