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Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Bill to Establish NGO Regulatory Commission

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A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday dismissed a suit brought by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), challenging the bill by the National Assembly to enact a regulatory commission to regulate affairs of non governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country.
In dismissing the suit, Justice Inyang Ekwo said that a bill has no life until it becomes an Act.
He said until a bill becomes an Act, the court can not be invited into the matter, adding that the right to challenge the bill cannot be equated with the right to challenge a law.
He said he agreed with the submission of the respondents that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter, therefore liable to dismissal.
Justice Ekwo held: “I’m unable to see where the process of making law could infringe on the rights of a person.”
He stated further that: “A bill does not have life until passed into law. When a bill becomes a law that is when the court could be invited into the matter.”
He said further that: “The right to the challenge a bill cannot beequated with the right to challenge a law.”
“I hold that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter,” he said.
The Incorporated Trustees of Paradigm Initiative for Information Technical Development had initiated the suit against the National Assembly, challenging its right to debate and pass the bill, saying if passed into law it would stifle activities of non governmental organisations in the country.
The Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2016, is one the 1716 bills currently pending in the 8th National Assembly.
The bill if passed into law makes it compulsory for all NGOs operating in Nigeria to register with the government and requires them to include details such as location and duration of proposed activities as well as information on all sources of funding. In addition, the proposed legislation states that NGOs will be required to provide “additional information” as requested by the Board during registration but does not say what this “additional information” would be.
These requirements make the registration process cumbersome and may inhibit the timely registration of some NGOs, making them susceptible to penalties.
In addition, making NGO registration compulsory goes against international standards for freedom of association as it prevents informal associations from existing and operating freely because of their lack of formal status,civil societies had argued.
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 2, 2016 by Umar Buba Jibril, a lawmaker from Kogi State, elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The bill was first read on June 2, 2016, with a second reading on July 14, 2016. It was thereafter referred to the House Committee on CSOs and Development Partners.
Many Nigerians criticised the bill, with other seeing it as a ploy to stifle civil society groups and silence critical voices in the country.
A serving Senator of the APC, Shehu Sani, vowed to fight the bill when it comes to the Senate.
“The bill on NGOs will reinforce those with tyrannical tendencies and further stifle rights to freedom of speech and assembly. I’ll oppose it,” he tweeted.
Chidi Odinkalu, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, launched a campaign against the bill, saying the proposed law would affect religious bodies and humanitarian agencies and organisations.
He also argued that the bill was unnecessary as there were already enough laws and institutions to regulate NGOs.
The Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) and Global Ciivil Society (CIVICUS), warned then that the bill is clearly intended as a means to undermine the work of NGOs, especially those working to hold the government accountable.

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