The recent debate in Nigeria on Bill HB585 provided an unexpected opportunity for The Nigeria Network of NGOs’ to advance its efforts to strengthen the regulatory framework surrounding the civil society sector.

Last year, when The Nigerian House of Representatives considered Bill HB585, to regulate the activities of nonprofits in the country, many within the sector felt, quite rightly, that the Bill, if passed, could limit freedoms for civil society.

The debate on whether Bill HB585 should pass or not took place via traditional and social media platforms. What we heard loudly from the public both online and offline was that the bill could pose a threat to citizens’ rights of free association and assembly. However, a quiet but nonetheless large number of voices that supported the bill had genuine concerns about a lack of transparency in the sector.

‘Amidst the growing call for strengthening sector accountability and regulations, a relationship with the regulators on how best to address these issues has matured for action’

Those that argue for the bill say there is no regulatory framework guiding the work of non-profits in Nigeria. However, there are 7 regulatory frameworks in place that can be strengthened and reformed. This is the work that my organisation, Nigeria Network of NGOs is leading, thanks to support from the Commonwealth Foundation.

This assertion that no regulatory framework exists confirms the gaps in the understanding of legislation governing the operational environment of the third sector space and the sector’s ways of working. These gaps must be bridged as full knowledge of the sector’s modus operandi by all stakeholders will go a long way in easing the rush to over-regulate. Efforts to this end will require a combination of awareness raising activities, evidence-based analysis of the sectors and a level headed evaluation of the positive and negative impacts of red tape.

‘this moment provided an opportunity to remind government of the importance of civic space and the equity that must come to play within the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals’

Our engagement with regulators since 2012 and the multiyear support received in 2016 from the Commonwealth Foundation has meant that the Nigeria Network of NGOs has been able to review regulations and suggest constructive changes. Ongoing engagement with our regulatory authorities remains an imperative. Amidst the growing call for strengthening sector accountability and regulations, a relationship with the regulators on how best to address these issues has matured for action. Through a detailed review of the laws guiding the operations of the sector, targeted advocacy efforts and meetings with regulators, Nigeria Network of NGOs found it easier to engage regulators and suggest evidence based solutions.

For instance, suggested changes to the Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (the law guiding the operations of nonprofits in Nigeria) were generated from discussions and outcomes from conferences and workshops with regulators, sector wide consultations, experience, evidence and lessons learnt from our work and peers in other parts of the world.

The Government’s ease of doing business order in addition to its ongoing efforts at reducing red tape, has helped ensure that the civil society sector is not left behind. As the country aims to improve its ranking on the ease of doing business index, this moment provided an opportunity to remind government of the importance of civic space and the equity that must come to play within the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Oyebisi Babatunde Oluseyi is Executive Director of the Nigeria Network of NGOs. Photo credit: NNNGO

2 thoughts on “A new policy for civil society in Nigeria

  1. To me, to stop the civil societies from freely and openly operating in Nigeria is like putting a fire extinguisher in the developmental space of the country. This is because the civil societies are the drivers and catalysts for the developmental speed of the country especially as it relates to the SDGs

  2. Civil societies help the machinery of government to function better by checking their activities to be more responsible and accountable to their citizens.

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