Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) and a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, among others, on Wednesday, attacked the newly passed Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, saying many of its provisions would allow for gross violation of fundamental human rights.
Falana and Odinkalu argued that the new law gave too much power to the Registrar General of the Corporate Affairs Commission, which can easily be used to arbitrarily clamp down on civil society organisations.
But the RG of CAC, Alhaji Garba Abubakar, speaking through Mr Justine Nidiya, said the new law should be allowed to operate first and given “benefit of the doubt; and if there are challenges we will address them by way of amendments.”
They spoke at a virtual town-hall meeting, with the theme, “CAMA 2020: Regulation Or Repression?” co-organised by European Union-ACT; Open Society Initiative for West Africa; Working Group on Civil Society Regulatory Environment; Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and the CAC.
Falana, in his remarks, faulted Section 389 of the law that empowers the CAC to suspend the Board of Trustees of an organisation in crisis and appoint an interim committee to manage its affairs.
Describing the section as a violation of the rights to freedom of association, Falana argued that the CAC should allow organisations to manage their internal crisis in line with their constitutions.
He said, “The organisation has been registered with its constitution; the Registrar General of the CAC has no power to throw away the constitution incorporated with the organisation.
“Once you have registered the constitution of an organisation and it has provided for Board of Trustees, it has provided for accountability mechanisms, you must respect such provisions of the organisation’s constitution that has been registered.
“The point being made that we should allow this law to work before we point out these very dangerous provisions will not be the best approach.”
According to Falana, another offensive provision of the law is Section 842, empowering the CAC to take over the funds in the bank accounts of an organisation in crisis.
The SAN said it was tantamount to “obtaining money by false pretence.”
Falana also condemned Section 831 of the law, which, he said, empowers the RG of the CAC to forcefully merge two organisations.
Furthermore, he described as most offensive, Section 851 of the law, which empowers the CAC to set up an Administrative Proceedings Committee, headed by the RG of CAC, to resolve internal disputes in an organisation.
Falana said, “The Administrative Proceedings Committee will be headed by the Registrar General of the CAC; so, he is going to be the accuser, the prosecutor and also the judge to decide who is wrong or right. He is also going to be empowered to impose penalties on any organisation who fails to file returns. These powers are draconian.”
In his remarks, Odinkalu described Part F of CAMA 2020 as a “mish-mash” of borrowed laws from the United Kingdom, hastily copied without the safeguards in the English law.
Also speaking, the Country Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said NGOs were already adequately regulated, stressing that the intervention by the CAC was needless.
But the representative of CAC RG, Nidiya, maintained that there was no room for abuse because the Board of Trustees of an organisation will only be suspended after a Board of Inquiry set up by the CAC would have looked into their crisis and made recommendations to the CAC.
Nidiya said, “Our own thinking is that at the Board of Inquiry level, all issues of human rights would have been taken care of because the Board of Inquiry will not just arrive at a decision without giving the parties the right of fair hearing.”