Much Ado about NGOs: 1-on-1 with Development Initiatives Network CEO
Our CEO, Dr. Bola Fajemirokun, gives her perspectives on the state of the NGO sector in Nigeria.
Q. What is the state of the charities or NGO sector in Nigeria?
BF. There have been massive changes especially since Nigeria returned to democratic government in 1999. We now have a sector that has become very diverse in terms of the number and types of organizations as well as their programmatic and geographical reach. We are also beginning to see government efforts aimed at making the activities and operations of charities or NGOs more professionalized, transparent and accountable. The underlying motive appears laudable but the methods being adopted are certainly open to challenge. What we want is to improve the effectiveness of the sector rather than subject it to bureaucratic overkill.
Q. Can you elaborate further?
BF. The reality is that there are so many different types of organizations operating in this space. Some are registered or corporatized but most are not. You have trusts, religious and educational organizations, clubs, societies, informal self-help groups and so on. But what the recent NGO Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill proposes is a one-size-fits-all approach so as to bring under a single regulatory net all these organizations irrespective of their distinct functions and characteristics. I have to say this is not helpful at all.
Q. What are your views about the NGO Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill?
BF. I just think it is entirely misconceived. If passed into law, it will place a heavy financial and bureaucratic burden on charities or NGOs or in fact kill them off. For example, corporatized bodies are already subject to the regulation of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service to mention just a few. If a body is registered under the CAC (a process which comes with costs) why should it be mandatory to register afresh with the proposed Commission and be subject to re-registration every two years! This starkly contrasts with the CAC regime, which only requires registration once! Also, in a country with huge social needs, what is the public interest that is served by barring charities or NGOs, whether corporatized or not, from carrying out their activities unless they are registered with this new Commission? Can such a restriction even stand in the face of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association? The impression one is left with is that the proposed Commission will be nothing more than a vehicle for government patronage that is primed to generate its operating revenues off the back of charities and NGOs. There is more. The requirement that projects cannot be implemented unless they are first registered with the Commission and have the approval of the relevant government Ministry is not only unrealistic but also revealing of the real intention of the Bill, which is to stifle the sector. In addition, an entirely novel concept is introduced as the Bill provides that assets purchased with donor funds are the property of the people of Nigeria and for that reason when an organization ceases to operate, such assets are surrendered to the Nigerian government. This statist approach is widely off the mark given the constitutional restrictions on the compulsory acquisition of property. The point is that the Bill has not been properly thought out.
Q. And what does the future hold?
BF. We need credible evidence or data for a start. A baseline survey about the charities or NGO sector in Nigeria is long overdue. Secondly, there is clearly a need for an enabling environment for philanthropy to thrive in a systematic and structured way so that private wealth can have a social impact especially intergenerationally. This is what government should be looking at not seeking to introduce a new NGO Commission that will duplicate some of the functions and powers of existing government agencies.