The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an appeal to three UN Special Rapporteurs over the National Assembly’s plan to establish a commission that would “crackdown and monitor civil society organisations”.
A statement signed by the executive director of the group, Adetokunbo Mumuni, on Sunday said SERAP was seriously concerned that the bill was by far the most dangerous piece of legislation in the country.
Mumuni said this was in terms of its reach and devastating consequences not only for the work of civil society but the effective enjoyment of constitutionally and internationally recognised human rights of Nigerians.
He said the bill would adversely affect the country’s civil societies for generations to come and turn them into government puppets.
He said the urgent appeal was sent to Ms Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
Mumuni said the others were, Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
He urged the rapporteurs to put pressure on the leadership of the National Assembly particularly the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, to immediately withdraw the repressive bill to establish the commission.
He said the bill sought to monitor, supervise, de-register, and pre-approve all activities by civil society, labour, community based organisations, and the media, in the country.
SERAP called on the Special Rapporteurs to prevail on the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to decline to sign the bill into law.
Mumuni also wants the House of Representatives and the Senate to exercise their legislative powers for good governance and ensure a safe and enabling environment for civil society organisations both in practice and rhetoric.
He urged them to do this in line with the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended and the government’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
“The sole objective of the House of Representatives is to weaken and delegitimise the work of independent and credible civil society.
“If adopted, the bill which is copied from repressive countries, would have a chilling effect not only on expressions of peaceful dissent by the citizens but also on the legitimate work of NGOs.
“It will also affect individual human rights defenders and activists scrutinising corruption in the National Assembly and exposing human rights violations by the government.
“The bill if passed by the National and signed into law by Osinbajo would severely curtail the rights of all Nigerians to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the country.’’
Mumuni said the bill was a further path of closing civic space in the country, something witnessed only under military regimes, and had no place in a democratic Nigeria.
He said the bill was entirely unnecessary, as the work of civil society was already sufficiently regulated under existing legislation.
He said the legislations included 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.
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He said SERAP was also concerned that the proposed bill was coming at a time the members of the National Assembly were proposing amnesty and immunity for themselves.
He said the quest for immunity was against prosecution for corruption and other economic crimes.
He said the bill would also undermine both section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution and article 13 of the UN Convention against Corruption.
He said these laws gave the media a critical role to ensure that the government, at all levels, was accountable to the citizenry.
Mumuni said the bill would subject Nigerians and civil society to extensive government control and interference negating the very essence of constitutionally and internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
He said SERAP believed that independent groups and activists should have space to carry out their human rights and anti-corruption work without fear of reprisals, such as losing their registration or being sent prison.
“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.
“By gagging civil society from criticising the National Assembly and the government, the bill will undercut the rule of law, shrink civic space, and expose vulnerable Nigerians to greater level of injustice and repression.”
Mumuni said 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.
He urged the authorities to rely on existing legislation which already regulate the work of these groups and to urge the National Assembly not to criminalise Nigerians for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
The bill, which is sponsored by Umar Jibril Deputy Leader (PDP-Kogi), seeks to establish a commission responsible only to the president and the Senate to regulate the activities of CSOs.