Some Christian and Muslim clerics have kicked against the Non-Governmental Organisation Bill seeking to direct the affairs of NGOs in the country.
The clerics expressed fear that if the bill was allowed to be passed into law, it would stifle the operations of churches and mosques.
The bill — titled, “A Bill for an Act to provide for the Establishment of a Non-Governmental Organisation Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations, etc. in Nigeria and for Related Matters” — has already passed second reading at the House of Representatives.
The Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Umar Jibril, who is the sponsor of the bill, has said it is in the interest of Nigerians, saying the bill is to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the way NGOs collect funds.
As of Friday, Jibril said the House was determined to pass the bill.
However, since it was introduced on the floor of the House, the bill has generated severe criticisms from several individuals and NGOs.
On Thursday, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, had also launched a campaign against the bill, saying the proposed law would affect religious bodies, humanitarian agencies and even the “esusu” system being practised in some communities.
Speaking on Friday, the National Publicity Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Bishop Emmah Isong, said it was frustrating that the government was spending time on the NGO bill when it should be focusing on addressing the economic and security challenges in the country.
He asked members of the House of Representatives to regulate their “bogus” allowances first, saying should the House pass the bill into law, it would see the wrath of the people.
He said, “The PFN will take an official position on the bill next week, but before then, let me express my own opinion. I am just wondering, is it that the huge security and economic problems this country is facing are not enough to keep the government busy? I’m just frustrated. Remember that this is not the first time this government will be poking its nose into the affairs of churches.
“Remember when the Federal Government tried to exclude Christian Religious Knowledge from the syllabus in schools and the time it tried to regulate the tenure of churches’ general overseers? To me, I think the lawmakers are not busy and it’s really annoying. We have the Boko Haram issue and that of the Indigenous People of Biafra, economic problem and others. Is an NGO bill what they should be spending their time on?
“To me, our lawmakers don’t really know much about governance, they don’t know what they should be spending their time on. Let them regulate their allowances first. I am daring them, let them go ahead with the bill and they will see millions of Nigerians take to the streets. By God’s grace, come 2019, all these people will be voted out because they don’t know what they are doing in the House.”
In his view, the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Uche, said the bill was meant to Islamise the country.
He said, “I see the bill as a means of Islamisation. I’m very blunt on this; the bill is a means of stifling the church. We don’t need it. Let the government know that churches are places of worship and it [the government] shouldn’t tamper with the issue of religion.
“Anything they do to us will boomerang. By now, the government should know that the affairs of religious houses are not dabbled into, even in the advanced economies of the world like the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Similarly, the Kwara State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Prof. Timothy Opoola, said the bill was injurious to the society, asking the House of Representatives to withdraw it.
He said, “The bill is dangerous to the society. It is aimed at controlling and caging the society. We condemn it. Our prayer is that God will not allow it to see the light of the day. That is the position of the church.
“The bill is not right, it is illegal and undemocratic. We are not in a communist nation. Even the communist nations will not do that. We are saying that the House of Representatives should not go ahead with the passage of the bill. It is not in the interest of Nigeria and it will not bring development.”
The Chief Imam of Issa-Elele Central Mosque, Ilorin, Kwara State, Abubakar Aliyu-Kamal, also opposed the bill, asking the government not to interfere in the affairs of mosques.
“The bill is not good. It is not right for the government to poke its nose into the affairs of God. Mosque is a place to serve the Almighty Allah. The house of Allah is the mosque. The government should not regulate the financial affairs of the mosque. Such a bill should not be acceptable. I will not abide by such a bill,” he said.
The Chief Imam of Ansar-ud-Deen, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Ahmad, also said the less the government was involved in the activities of NGOs, the better.
He said the bill could be a ploy by the government to control or silence organisations that were very critical on issues of accountability, lifestyle and good governance.
He said the legislature should be more concerned with improving the quality of lives of the citizens rather than seeking to dominate them and to silence those who are complaining about their “ever ballooning emoluments.”
He said, “Within the existing laws, I do not see the need for such a bill, because the law is already sufficient for the purpose of regulation and the Financial Reporting Council is there.
“The bill, to me, is self-serving and the government has to prove that it is not an instrument of oppression.”
Meanwhile, the President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, said churches and mosques should not be categorised as NGOs as they are faith-based.
He said, “Technically speaking, churches and mosques are not NGOs, they are faith-based organisations. NGOs are more of civil society organisations, human rights and charity organisations.
“The only issue is that some churches dabble into charitable services, which might make them to be classified as NGOs.”
In the meantime, the House of Representatives said on Friday that the bill wouldn’t affect religious bodies and quasi-financial institutions.
Jibril said, “Religious bodies and organisations are not NGOs. Our quasi-financial institutions at local levels are not NGOs! These organisations have existed for centuries to serve businesses and commerce of our market women and traders.”