The Committee for Relevant Art has joined other civil society bodies across the country to condemn the attempt by lawmakers to introduce a new legislation which, according to it, threatens the freedom of civil society bodies.
CORA, which also doubles as Arterial Network Nigeria, is the country’s affiliate of the Arterial Network, a pan-African network of artists, art organisations, creative enterprises and activists engaged in capacity building, advocacy, artists’ freedom of expression, research, cultural policy, information dissemination, publication of reports and best practice toolkits, all geared towards growing and strengthening the cultural and creative industry.
It says the bill, which it describes as “an Act to provide the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the supervision of non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, et cetera, in Nigeria and for related matters,” is currently before the House of Representatives and it has passed the first and second readings.
CORA, in a statement, argues that if passed into law, the bill will empower the agency to issue licences, renewable every two years, to all NGOs.
“In the event of the agency’s refusal to renew any group’s licence, that NGO will cease to operate. Every NGO will also have to receive permission from the agency before it executes projects. Its board will also interfere with how funds received from donors are spent, and if any NGO spends without the agency’s permission it will amount to a crime which attracts a jail term of up to 18 months,” it explains.
CORA also notes with concern what it describes as the misplaced priority and desperation of some politicians to pass a bill that will do nothing but restrict the capacity of civil society bodies to actively play their constitutional roles in a democratic society.
It says, “The bill is NOT in the interest of the country in general and the arts and culture sector, in particular. Many art organisations in Nigeria are registered as NGOs. Not only do they promote the rich culture and heritage of the Nigerian people, but also play prominent roles in civic education and public enlightenment, which strengthen democracy and human rights in the country. Many art NGOs organise book festivals, film festivals, exhibitions, live concerts and other cultural events that provide the platforms for artists to showcase their works, some of which critique government policies.
“Art NGOs also advocate and hold the Nigerian government accountable in the domestication and implementation of international cultural policies signed by the country. They work closely with international partners to promote international the human rights laws and best practices that advance the rights of Nigerian artists and the freedom to express themselves in the forms of music, film, theatre play, art exhibition, poetry, etc., some of which address national issues and critique government policies. CORA believes that the proposed legislation will restrict the ability of art NGOs to continue performing these functions.”
The sponsor of the bill and Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Umar Jibril, has reportedly made attempts to justify it by claiming that some NGOs collected funds for internally displaced persons in the North-East and disappeared. He also reportedly alleged that some NGOs fund the activities of terrorists and insurgents.
Apparently distancing itself from Jibril’s allegations, CORA states that it is not opposed to the financial accountability of NGOs, anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism initiatives.
It says, “We believe that all the laws and regulatory measures are already in place to tackle these issues. Statutory bodies like the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, the Central Bank of Nigeria and existing laws such as Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended), Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act, 2013, etc., are already addressing these concerns. Setting up a new regulatory body is wasteful and unnecessary.”
In the light of the above, it urges the lawmakers to withdraw this bill from consideration and focus on new laws that address more pressing national issues,: the group stresses.