The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked three UN special rapporteurs to pressure Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the house of representatives and others national assembly leaders to withdraw a bill seeking to monitor civil society organisations (CSOs).
The bill seeks to establish a commission that would monitor, supervise, de-register, and pre-approve all activities by civil society, labour, community-based organisations, and the media, in the country.
The bill will establish a commission responsible only to the president and the senate. Under section 7, the commission will monitor and supervise these groups supposedly to “ensure that they accomplish their missions according to law” and under section 26, strictly “in line with the programmes of government”.
The appeal, dated July 28 and signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group’s executive director, was sent to Annalisa Ciampi, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
According to SERAP, the bill, if signed into law, “would severely curtail the rights of all Nigerians to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the country”.
It further said, “the sole objective of the green chambers is to weaken and delegitimize the work of independent and credible civil society”.
SERAP urged the UN to prevail on the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to decline signing the bill into law.
“If adopted, the bill which is copied from repressive countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda, would have a chilling effect not only on expressions of peaceful dissent by the citizens but also on the legitimate work of NGOs and individual human rights defenders and activists scrutinizing corruption in the national assembly and exposing human rights violations by the government,” the appeal read.
“SERAP is seriously concerned that the bill is by far the most dangerous piece of legislation in the country in terms of its reach and devastating consequences not only for the work of civil society but also the effective enjoyment of constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights of the citizens. The bill will devastate the country’s civil society for generations to come and turn it into a government puppet.
“The bill is a further path of closing civic space in the country, something witnessed only under military regimes, and has no place in a democratic Nigeria. The bill is entirely unnecessary, as the work of civil society is already sufficiently regulated under existing legislation, including the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act and other similar legislation.
“SERAP is also concerned that the proposed bill is coming at a time the members of the senate and house of representatives are proposing amnesty and immunity for themselves against prosecution for corruption and other economic crimes; and the government is proposing a social media policy to restrict and undermine citizens’ access to the social media ahead of the general elections in 2019.
“By including civil society in general, the bill will also undermine both section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution and article 13 of the UN Convention against Corruption, both of which have given the media a critical role to ensure that the government, at all levels, is accountable to the citizenry.
“SERAP fears that the overbearing bill would inhibit and obstruct the ability of Nigerians to work collectively through local and international organizations on any human rights, transparency and accountability research or advocacy that may be deemed contrary to “the national interest” of Nigeria, or not “consistent with the programmes of government.
“The provisions of the bill are also not subject to any judicial oversight. SERAP believes that independent groups and activists should have space to carry out their human rights and anticorruption work without fear of reprisals, such as losing their registration or being sent prison.
“Civil society groups have played a key role in holding government and parliaments accountable but without a strong civil society in Nigeria, the problem of high-level official corruption and other cases of violations of human rights would go unaddressed, and perpetrators would continue to enjoy impunity.
“SERAP is concerned that by proposing this bill, Nigeria’s parliament is trying to immune itself from public criticism and scrutiny. If this bill is passed into law, good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights of Nigerians would become a farce in the country.