Yakubu Dogara the Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, welcomed public criticism of the content of the controversial NGO regulatory bill.
Dogara declared this in his welcome remark after the House joined from a two-month recess.
“Public criticism of the content of the Bill is a welcome development and there are many who are doing just that,” he said.
He said it is the reason why every bill is subjected to a public hearing so that the inputs of stakeholders can be obtained to ensure public buy-in.
“I hasten to say that all Nigerians and other corporate persons including non-Nigerians, are stakeholders and have a right to support or oppose a bill,” he said.
“However when opinions are targeted at disparaging the institution of the legislature then it becomes imperative to interrogate the motives driving such, especially when this emanates from those who should know.”
The speaker said that the principal objective of the bill is to inject transparency, accountability and prevent the subversion of national security from both within and without.
“No one can nor indeed should gag the operations of NGOs in Nigeria, but just as they aspire for this freedom, it must be stated that freedom does not come without responsibility as there is no such thing as freedom to be irresponsible,” he said.
Mr. Dogara also emphasised a claim made by other lawmakers that “churches, mosques, esusu, market women associations as well as local quasi-financial institutions are not NGOs and thus the bill has nothing to do with their operations.”
He added that the National Assembly cannot be intimidated into abandoning its sacred legislative duties of providing a platform for Nigerians to agree or disagree on any proposed legislative measure.
“This openness and transparency are what the NGOs have always canvassed and promoted and they should, therefore, embrace this opportunity to interrogate the issues with open arms.”
Mr. Dogara did not, however, address a major concern of opponents of the bill, that there were already enough laws to regulate NGOs.
One of the critics of the bill, Chidi Odinkalu, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, has raised this as well as other elements in the bill that could make it open to being used to manipulate and gag critical NGOs.
A senator, Shehu Sani, has also voiced opposition to the bill and said he would oppose it when it comes to the Senate.
The NGO regulatory bill has passed second reading in the House of Representatives and is at the committee level. It was sponsored by the Deputy House leader, Umar Jibrin.
The NGO regulatory agency, if established, would be headed by an Executive Secretary and a 17-member Governing Board to be appointed by the Nigerian President for a five-year tenure.