A Statement by The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) Tasking The Federal Government to Immediately Expunge Those Toxic Provisions in The Amendments To The Company and Allied Matters Act 2020 for Seeking To Disempower Non-Governmental Bodies and Churches so as To Shut Up Independent Voices and Opinions, Which is A Direct affront on Constitutional Democracy and A New Form of Dictatorship
It is reasonable and intuitive, within a liberal normative and institutional framework, to expect that human rights conditions would improve when a country makes the transition from authoritarian government to democratic rule.
In the Nigerian context, as the struggles of the people continue to unfold and as symbolized by the blood of those who died in the process, one of the obvious goals for which its people fought, was for the restoration of human rights (including civil, political, economic and social rights) previously repressed by military decrees.
Nonetheless, the goal has arguably not been optimally realized in the country which restored civil rule in 1999 after many years of military dictatorship but which has not shown as much progress as might be expected in positively altering its human rights standing.
Evidence from several local and international reports on the human rights situation in Nigeria indicate continuing human rights violations under a democratic constitution in which human rights guarantees (contained in the Constitution itself and international agreements that Nigeria signed onto) are prominently prioritized, at least on paper.
A more recent obstacle to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights as encapsulated in the Nigerian Constitution and international agreements that Nigeria signed into, which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter and People’s Rights is the amendments to the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020, which forms the fulcrum of the statement.
On August 7, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Company and Allied Maters Act, 2020 (CAMA 2020), which repeals and replaces the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990. The controversial section 839 (1) and (2) provides that religious bodies and non-governmental organisations will be strictly regulated by the Registrar-General of Corporate Affairs Commission and a supervising minister.
The law also wields power to suspend the trustees of an association or a religious body and appoint an interim manager or managers to coordinate its affairs where it reasonably believes that there had been any misconduct or mismanagement, or where the affairs of the association are being run fraudulently or where it is necessary or desirable for the purpose of public interest.
It would be recalled that there was a public hearing conducted by the 8th National Assembly on the “Non- Governmental Organisations Bill tagged; ‘Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Co-ordination And Monitoring of Non- Governmental Organisations,’ which was attended by CAN and many NGOs.
On the crest of the desire of the people, the bill that sought to bring the religious organisations and NGOs under the control and influence of the government was rejected because it would kill the church, but regrettably it is now smuggled into CAMA through ambush and making the rejected bill a law.
This is of utmost concern because the establishment of a church has a spiritual foundation and the invitation of a manager who obviously does not share the spiritual insight of the founders of the church would undermine the church, insidiously defeating its purpose. How can a secular and political minister be the final authority on the affairs and management of another institution which is not political?
Again, we discovered that CAC which will control Churches and NGOS has always been controlled by Hausa Fulani Moslem Northerners since inception. Even when Mrs. Azinge acted briefly, President Buhari brought up kangaroo charges of non-declaration of assets to unseat her so as to make way for the candidate of the Moslems, controlled from the Sultanate in Sokoto. How then can a non-Christian head of government ministry would be empowered to determine the running of the church as envisaged by the CAMA 2020.
We are worried that this amendment would lead to the revocation of licences of not only NGOs, but also religious bodies and other similar CSOs. It would also have disastrous consequences for the daily lives of ordinary Nigerians and to society more broadly.
OUR POSITION AND DEMANDS:
The amendment to CAMA is NGO Bill in disguise because what NASS failed to do before through the NGO Bill they have now achieved through the backdoor. Obviously, the legislative & regulatory agenda of the present NASS as illustrated in several of their proposed legislations appear to be aimed at attacking freedom of speech & civil space and to abrogate property & economic rights.
The clause in section 839 of CAMA which shows that an order of court is required to suspend the trustees of an NGO under that section the extant principles of Nigerian administrative law are adequate to ensure that the wrongful exercise of the regulatory powers of the CAC are brought under the supervisory control of the courts is misleading and deceptive owing to the sabotage and the undermining going on in our nation’s judicial system. THE JUDICIARY HAS BEEN HIJACKED BY THE EXECUTIVE BECAUSE THE HEAD OF THE NIGERIAN JUDICIARY AND THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA WAS RAILROADED INTO OFFICE BY THE EXECUTIVE CONTROLLED CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL THROUGH AN EX PARTE ORDER WHICH ILLEGALLY UNSEATED THE THEN SUBSTANTIVE CJN WHO IS FROM CROSS RIVERS SOUTHERN NIGERIA AND REPLACED BY A JUDGE FROM HAUSA/FULANI. So this crippled judiciary can’t guarantee fair hearing in the event that a case is lodged against any action of the government against any NGO deemed unsatisfactory under the controversial CAMA 2020.
While we are not against the government fighting corruption wherever it may be found as claimed by the proponents and supporters of the amendment, we completely reject the idea of bringing the church, which is technically grouped among the NGOs, under control of the government.
The church and the civil Society Organisations cannot be controlled by the government because of the spiritual responsibilities, obligations. Additionally, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), which are often assumed to be institutions that facilitate communication between citizens and policymakers is only as effective as the space allowed by government, and so cannot be controlled by the government too in a third World Country whereby institutions are deliberately weakened by strong men in political offices.
Moreover, the Constitution of the Association usually contain provisions, which sanction these conducts, ascribing civil and sometimes criminal liability to erring trustees and which may result in the removal or replacement of the trustee. Why is the Government of Muhammadu Buhari codifying this position only to reinforce its statutory teeth to disempower Non-governmental bodies and Churches and to shut up independent opinions and voices.
Assenting to the CAMA 2020, which repealed the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990, despite its rejection at the public hearing is a declaration of war on Christianity and a further agenda to islamise Nigeria by another means and must be resisted by all means.
More so, the operational independence of plurality of voices in a democracy which these amendments to CAMA seek to undermine is tantamount to taking away the right to liberty and freedom and thus constitutes a huge obstacle to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights as encapsulated in the Nigerian Constitution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on civil and political rights and the African charter on HUMAN and people’s rights.
In the Nigerian Constitution, two Chapters, spanning 26 (twenty six) sections are devoted to human rights subject and the right to personal liberty is one of the most central human rights.
Besides, Nigeria as a constitutional democracy, cannot be making a law that makes the executive arm of government far and above the other arms or segments of government when the grund norm envisaged a clear delineation or Separation of powers in section 4,5 and 6 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Therefore, the section 839 of the CAMA 2020 is a direct affront on constitutional democracy, aimed at attacking freedom of speech, civil space and abrogate property and economic rights. This is not different from the military takeover of government that has just happened in Mali. We wonder how President Buhari will be condemning the coup in Mali but happily staging a military or dictatorial coup against Churches and non-governmental bodies and CSOs.
HURIWA is totally in support of Rev. David Oyedepo and the organised body of Christians that opposed the amendments. We join our voices with theirs to task the federal government to immediately expunge those toxic provisions. We also urge Nigerians to institute multiple court cases to challenge these illegalities.
Just like CAN rightly noted; Nigeria should not be compared with any other nation when it comes to the relationship between the religious institutions and the government. In Nigeria, people’s religions are tied to their humanity and of course, their life. How can the government sack the trustees of a church which it contributed no dime to establish? In other climes, bodies registered as charities enjoy some forms of funding support from public fund so such stringent rules on management are permissible but not the same position in Nigeria in which the Nigerian government has no role in the funding of non governmental bodies.
In Nigeria, there is a clear separation between church and state and it is strange for the government to enjoy the arbitrary powers to suo moto nominate trustees for organisations that are Non-Governmental because this is a direct injury to the operational independence of non-governmental groups and a way to kill the vibrancy of the civil society.
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
Miss. Zainab Yusuf:
DIRECTOR; National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).