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Last updated 6 February 2013
Nigeria is a federal republic whose basic law is the 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2010).
As a former British colony, the legal system of Nigeria follows the common law tradition, but there is also provision for the application of traditional or indigenous customary laws and Shari’a (i.e. Islamic-based) law. Customary and Shari’a law were previously limited to civil matters where all the parties consented, but after 1999 some states in the northern part of Nigeria extended Shari’a law to criminal matters and social interaction.
Nigeria is home to a wide variety of civil society and non-governmental organizations, some of which came into existence even before the country was formed in 1914, some in the period before Independence in October 1960, and many more since then.
The main laws that relate to CSOs are found in federal legislation. Because the Constitution guarantees freedom of association, there is no restriction on those who wish to join together for any kind of purpose, provided that the purposes for which the group is formed, or the methods that it uses are not themselves illegal. The range of CSOs is as wide and diverse as the country itself, ranging from local ‘elites’ clubs, traditional age grade associations and town unions in villages and small towns, to national organizations with thousands of members.
While it is not necessary that every group or association must be registered, those which wish to enjoy the benefits of having legal personality, or the limited tax advantages that may be available, must be registered or incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act of 1990.
|Organizational Forms||Civil society organizations (CSOs)|
|Registration Body||Corporate Affairs Commission|
|Approximate Number||Few statistics are maintained, even of incorporated CSOs.|
|Barriers to Entry||1 - Minors, persons of unsound mind, undischarged bankrupts, and those convicted within the previous 5 years of an offence involving dishonesty cannot be registered as trustees or directors.
2 - The President may issue an order to prohibit a CSO that is “dangerous to the good government of Nigeria or of any part thereof.”
3 - Both Nigerian and foreign CSOs seeking incorporation may face hurdles in the form of various requirements.
|Barriers to Activities||1 - If a CSO wishes to engage in activity that involves a government Ministry, Department, or Agency (MDA), it may need to satisfy the criteria of that MDA.
2 - Some GONGOs are perceived as undermining independent CSOs.
3 - Certain state governments have been sought to pressure and even subvert CSOs.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||After protests in January 2012, the Inspector-General of Police announced that anyone calling for the removal of the President would be arrested and charged for treason.|
|Barriers to International Contact||None|
|Barriers to Resources||None|
|Population||167,000,000 (Oct 2011)|
|Type of Government||Federal Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 46.76 years
Female: 48.41 years
|Literacy Rate||Male: 75.7%
Female: 60.6% (2003 est.)
|Religious Groups||Muslim, Christian, indigenous|
|Ethnic Groups||250 or more, including Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Idoma, Nupe|
|GDP Per Capita||$2,500 (2010 est.)|
Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, (Washington, DC, 2010); Nigerian National Population Commission. .
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||142 (2010)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||5.8 (2009)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||27 (2009)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||143 (2010)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Free
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4 (2010)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 2012||Rank: 14 (2010)
Human Rights: 8.6
|177 – 1
0 – 10
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1993|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1993|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1967|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1984|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||Yes||2004|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1991|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2010|
|Key Regional Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)||Yes||1975|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The current Constitution of Nigeria was adopted on May 29, 1999 and amended in May 2010.
Chapter IV of the Constitution enshrines fundamental rights, including the freedoms of association and assembly. Section 39 guarantees the right to receive and impart information. Section 40 guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association. Section 45 permits these rights to be restricted in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or to protect the rights or freedoms of others.
Sections 39 and 40 provide as follows:
- Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
- Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions;
Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
- Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society:
(a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
(b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
Section 40: Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Nigeria is a federal republic and the main laws that govern civil society are derived from federal legislation, including the following:
- Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA);
- Companies Income Tax Act (CITA);
- Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act 1998;
- Value Added Tax Act (1993);
- VAT Amendment Act (2007);
- Federal Inland Revenue Service (Establishment) Act 2007; and
- National Planning Commission Act.
While criminal offences may be created by federal legislation, most criminal laws are state laws which derive from the Penal Code (originally applicable in 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory) and the Criminal Code (originally applicable in 17 southern states).
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
On September 6, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan attended a presidential retreat with civil society organisations and professional organisations to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution as part of the ongoing Constitutional drafting process. The fact that President Jonathan spent most of the day at the retreat was appreciated by the attendees, and will likely to lead an improved relationship between President Jonathan and civil society. Although CSOs are providing input into the Constitutional drafting process, no changes to the rights to freedom of association and assembly are expected.
In early October 2011, the House of Representatives lamented that some organisations were operating in the country in a way that posed a danger to national security, and asserted an intention to table a bill to regulate the activities of civil society organisations in Nigeria. However, no such legislation has yet been presented before the House.
A wide range of CSOs may be formed in Nigeria simply by individuals coming together for whatever collective purposes upon which they have agreed, provided those purposes are lawful. They include companies limited by guarantee, associations with incorporated trustees, unincorporated associations, co-operatives, and traditional organizations akin to friendship societies, such as town unions and other mutual benefit organizations.
For CSOs seeking legal entity status, the two most frequent options are associations with incorporated trustees and incorporation as a company limited by guarantee. Both of these forms of registration are governed by the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and are handled by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
A company limited by guarantee is formed for the promotion of commerce, art, science, religion, sports, culture, education, research, charity, or other similar purposes. The income and property of the company is applied solely towards the promotion of its purposes.
An association with incorporated trustees is an association of persons that appoints one or more trustees and pursues registration under Part C of the CAMA. There are two types of associations with incorporated trustees. The first type occurs where trustees are appointed by a community of persons bound together by customs, religion, kinship or nationality; the second type arises where trustees are appointed by a body or association of persons established for any religious, educational, literary, scientific, social, development, cultural, sporting, or charitable purpose.
Public Benefit Status
Under the Companies Income Tax Act (CITA), the profits of a company engaged in ecclesiastical, charitable, or educational activities of a public character, or promoting sporting activities are exempt from income tax. Not-for-profit companies engaged in other activities may apply to the President of Nigeria for an order to exempt them from taxation on their income or profits, no matter what the source.
In addition, incorporated Nigerian companies donating to Nigerian CSOs engaged in ecclesiastical, charitable, or educational activities of a public character, or to any of the bodies listed in the Fifth Schedule to the CITA, may claim tax relief for donations of up to 10 percent of their profits. Individuals, however, do not receive any tax relief for donations to Nigerian CSOs.
Barriers to Entry
There are some potential barriers to the formation of CSOs in Nigeria:
Potential Founders, Trustees, Directors. At least two persons over 18 are required to form a company, although minors may join in formation. Minors, persons of unsound mind, undischarged bankrupts, and those convicted within the previous five years of an offence involving dishonesty cannot be registered as trustees or directors.
Presidential power to prohibit organizations. While Nigerian law does not prohibit the formation or operation of unregistered groups, the President may issue an order to make unlawful a CSO that is “dangerous to the good government of Nigeria or of any part thereof.” Although there are few examples of organizations that have been refused registration because of such an order, this power has been used against unregistered organizations. For example, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was proscribed by the Obasanjo administration; the group is non-violent but seeks secession or the break-up of Nigeria. The radical Islamic sect Boko Haram has also been proscribed: while this was clearly a reaction to the violent methods of the Boko Haram group itself, other peaceful Islamist groups have found themselves the target of police raids and arrests after being wrongly tagged “Boko Haram” members.
Registration Procedures. Both Nigerian and foreign CSOs seeking incorporation under the CAMA may face hurdles in the form of various requirements. For example:
- A CSO that wishes to incorporate as a company limited by guarantee needs to have its structure approved by the Federal Government. There is no specific procedure for securing such approval, but applications are handled by the Attorney-General of the Federation. CSOs adopting this procedure may be required to make adjustments; for example, a CSO with educational objects may be required to have a director with a background in education on its board. Generally, however, difficulties that CSOs experience are more likely to be due to administrative bottlenecks or inefficiency than to attempts at political control.
- A CSO can challenge any refusal to make a decision on its application for registration by applying for an order of mandamus to compel the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to take a decision. However, there is no fixed time for deciding on an application.
- For associations with incorporated trustees, each change to its trustees or its registered constitution must be published in newspapers with an unspecified waiting period before any changes can take effect. Any member of the public can object to the proposed change or to the CSO’s original incorporation. While the affected CSO may challenge any objection, the process causes delays.
- The proposed trustees of CSOs may be required by CAMA to undergo a police background check, although these powers are rarely exercised in the case of incorporated trustees.
- Registration fees must be paid as stipulated in subsidiary regulations under the CAMA. The fees range from N21,000 (US$150) for the registration of Incorporated Trustees to N10,000 (US$75) for a company whose nominal share capital does not exceed one million naira (US$7,500). While these fees are relatively modest, not-for-profit organisations do not enjoy any waivers or reduced fees. They must also pay stamp duty on their registration or incorporation documents.
Foreign Organizations. Foreign CSOs may be incorporated just as local CSOs under CAMA. In connection with such incorporation, some foreign organizations have experienced problems arising from their names. For example, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs faced difficulties on the words ‘National,’ ‘Democratic’ and ‘Institute’, and as a result was unable to incorporate under the CAMA. On the other hand, the International Republican Institute, as well as other foreign CSOs, were able to incorporate as companies limited by guarantee.
A foreign CSO that is not able to incorporate under CAMA may still operate in Nigeria if it is registered with the National Planning Commission. This status is achieved when the Ministry grants the foreign CSO’s request for a bilateral agreement. Once the agreement is completed, the foreign CSO has legal personality in Nigeria. However, that status comes at the price of fairly extensive control by the Ministry, which acquires powers over the operation of the foreign CSO. The Ministry may appoint members to its Board, approve the hiring of its key personnel, and approve its budget because the essence of the bilateral agreement is that the foreign CSO becomes a quasi-consultant to the Ministry.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Additional registration or certification requirements. If a CSO wishes to engage in some activity that involves a government Ministry, Department, or Agency (MDA), it may need to satisfy the criteria of that MDA. For example, a CSO that wishes to engage in election observation may need to seek registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Refusal by the INEC to register the CSO would not mean that the CSO would cease to exist or prevent the members of that CSO from engaging in election observation (provided that its members could do so within the rules generally applicable to election observation). However, members of a CSO that is registered with INEC would probably be issued some kind of identification that would enable its members to move freely and enter certain locations, such as collation centres, that otherwise would be closed off to the general public.
A CSO that is providing developmental support – e.g., digging boreholes for water or providing some educational support – might seek to be registered with the relevant state or federal MDA, at least for the purpose of facilitating communication. Many CSOs, however, carry out such activities without seeking to be placed on any such “approved list.” Registration with an MDA is not to be confused with incorporation by the CAC, as it is the latter that confers legal personality. In some cases, depending on the objects for which an organization is formed, the CAC requires a prospective association to secure prior certification by a particular ministry or department.
GONGOs. The government has established government NGOs or “GONGOs.” For example, during the 2007 elections, election-observation organizations sprang up and were recognized and accredited by the INEC. This was perceived as an attempt to undermine and overshadow the statements that were issued by independent CSOs that were critical of the conduct of the elections.
Harassment. While CSOs have not been subject to harassment by the Federal Government, certain state governments have been known to attempt to pressure and even subvert CSOs and to single out certain CSOs for special adverse treatment. In such cases, however, CSOs have the right to challenge the government in court.
From time to time, the police attempt to claim that they have power to restrict the rights of Nigerians to hold public meetings based on colonial-era legislation, but in view of the constitutional guarantees on freedom of association and assembly, such powers are often successfully challenged in the courts.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Companies registered under CAMA are prohibited from making any donation or gift to a political party, or from making any gift or donation “for any political purpose” (Section 38(2) of CAMA). Any breach of this prohibition could result in the officers and any member of the company that voted for such a donation being liable to refund the amount or value of the gift to the company and could also result in conviction and fines in an amount equal to the value of the gift. Human rights and pro-democracy CSOs have not been affected by these provisions, which have been interpreted as applying to partisan politics, registered political parties, and candidates for elective offices.
Although there is no legal restriction on CSOs canvassing particular opinions or carrying out advocacy campaigns, the National Assembly is currently considering legislation to prohibit same-sex marriage, and this may also prohibit any association of homosexuals, and any advocacy for a change in the law on homosexuality, provisions that may violate the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom to impart and receive information.
In January 2012, nationwide protests and strikes were conducted in response to the increase in petrol prices. Following the end of the strike, as civil society groups insisted on their intent to continue the protest, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) announced that anyone calling for the removal of the President before the end of his four-year term would be arrested and charged for treason, while the State Security Service (SSS) announced that it was treason to abuse the President. In addition, armed troops were deployed in major cities where protests had taken place. The Federal Government stated that the deployment was to forestall a breakdown in law and order, but statements were also made by the Police indicating an intention to revive powers under the Police Act by which permission to stage demonstrations must be sought from the Police. Although these powers have previously been struck down by the Court of Appeal, they appear to have been upheld in other Court of Appeal decisions. The Supreme Court has yet to resolve the issue.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no restrictions preventing Nigerian CSOs from contacting and cooperating with colleagues in civil society, whether inside or outside the country. CSOs are also free to cooperate with and contact businesses or government bodies, subject to the desire or requirements of any such body. The National Planning Commission has overall responsibility for managing multilateral and bilateral economic co-operation, development aid and technical assistance, and to this end, has embarked on the registration of international and local NGOs, with a view to ensuring that they operate in line with Nigeria’s direction and vision.
Barriers to Resources
There are no legal barriers to resources under Nigerian law.
A CSO may conduct business activities directly, but where incorporated with trustees or limited by guarantee they must apply the proceeds of such economic activity to the purposes of such organization.
Registered CSOs are free to compete for government funds if this accords with the purposes for which they were established.
While there is no restriction barring CSOs from receiving foreign funding, it would strengthen civil society if there were some incentive for Nigerian citizens to contribute to or fund CSOs and obtain tax relief for doing so. However, there is some indication that even though the Nigerian government itself receives foreign funding support, it finds it convenient to leave civil society dependent on foreign funding, and even to berate or criticize civil society as being “sponsored” by foreign interests, with the underlying suggestion that such organizations are unpatriotic and – by criticizing government – are being paid to act contrary to Nigeria’s interests.
In October 2011, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Civil Society and Donor Agencies, stating that its duties included the formulation of policies and guidelines for the coordination and regulation of the activities of external donor agencies in Nigeria, expressed concern at the lack of coordination of foreign development assistance and the possibility of duplication. It stated its intention to track and monitor foreign assistance.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Universal Periodic Review: Nigeria (2009)|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||
Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders (2006)
Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (2007)
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Nigeria|
|U.S. State Department||2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria|
|Failed States Index Reports||2012 Foreign Policy Failed States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Nigeria and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Nigeria|
Lagos, Civil Society to Analyse Budget Via Twitter (February 2013) Civil society groups in Lagos are set to engage the state government on the latter's 2013 budget next week.The groups, under the Lagos state Civil Society Partnership (LACSOP), said the move is in line with its citizens' engagement project aimed at strengthening leadership and accountability in governance.
Presidency, Senate Set for Showdown Over Anti-Terrorism Law (January 2013)
The delay by the National Assembly in passing into law the amendments to the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 and Other Related Matters has been caused by intense lobbying by security agencies. This is because the agency vested with the task of coordinating the fight against terror would be in charge of a huge budgetary allocation. In 2012, as much as N1 trillion was allocated to the combating terrorism, with President Goodluck Jonathan raising an argument that an end to terrorism was vital to the political and economic development of Nigeria.
Kogi First Lady - "I Don't Rely on Government to Fund My Project" (December 2012)
Kogi State First Lady, Hajia Halima Ladi Wada, is running a Non-Governmental Organisation called Kogi Women Empowerment Network (KOWEN). Unlike most NGOs run by wives of state governors that rely heavily on state governments for funding, she claims that hers is relying on donations from non-government sources. In an interview with Sunday Trust, she also spoke on the need to create an enabling environment for more women to contribute to nation building.
When group takes FOI advocacy to community, grassroots (November 2012)
The Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a civil society group, recently held a one-day sensitization workshop on the Freedom of Information Act [FOI] for representatives of grassroots and civil society organizations (CSOs). Speaking at the workshop, the director of campaigns, Mr. Tive Denedo, said the workshop was part of the on-going effort to ensure that the Nigerian society was highly engaged and mobilized around the FOI Act.
Thousands protest video in volatile Nigerian city (September 2012)
Thousands of Muslims protesters in Nigeria have called for African leaders to censor the anti-Islamic video that has caused protests and riots around the world. The city of Kaduna has been the site of many deadly sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians, but today’s demonstration was peaceful.
Jonathan meets civil society, pledges enduring Constitution (September 2012)
Goodluck Jonathan said the time had come for a ‘Peoples Constitution’ and sought the help of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in aggregating broad based contributions to enhance the ongoing constitutional review process. He spoke at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, during a Presidential Retreat for the CSOs and professional associations.
Effective compliance with Procurement Law, key to corruption fight (August 2012)
To succeed in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, effective compliance with the Public Procurement Law (PPA 2007) at the federal and state levels has been described as indispensable.This was the outcome of a one-day sensitization workshop on the role of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) in the campaign against corruption in the South-south zone of the country, which took place in Benin City, Edo State.
NGO wants internal funding for HIV/AIDS (June 2012)
An NGO the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF), has called on the Federal Government to help it locate funds to finance its HIV/AIDS programmes to reduce dependence on donor bodies.
Civil society wants investment in women (May 2012)
Civil society groups have called for more attention to be given to issues affecting women and female children particularly at the grassroots level. This was part of their recommendations issued at the end of a meeting in Abuja to define civil society organisations' position on issues they want the government to look into. The recommendations issued by the Project Manager of the society on policy dialogue, Ezinwa Okoroafor, said the defined issues would also form the fulcrum of their discussions at the forthcoming gender policy dialogue organized by the World Bank and DFID on May 21.
UN human rights chief urges bold effort by leaders to end sectarian violence (January 2012)
The United Nations human rights chief today urged a bold effort by Nigeria's political and religious leaders to halt the spiraling sectarian violence unleashed by a series of recent attacks by the Boko Haram group. "It is essential that the country's leadership, and especially its Muslim and Christian leaders, join forces to unequivocally condemn all violence, including retaliation, and encourage their followers to identify and help arrest all those involved in killings and other acts of violence that have been taking place," High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.
Nigerian government accused of human rights abuse (January 2012)
The Nigerian government is guilty of using excessive force against its citizens protesting an increase in the price of petrol following withdrawal of fuel subsidy, Amnesty International has alleged. The human rights group has urged the Nigerian authorities to immediately end what it described as excessive use of force by the police and soldiers against citizens.
Nigeria reclaims ''A'' status at ICC (January 2012)
The International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of Human Rights Institutions restores the country’s voting rights. Nigeria has reclaimed its former ''A'' status at the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of Human Rights Institutions. Prof. Bem Angwe, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), disclosed this on Wednesday in Abuja.
Nigeria's leader sparks change, but not the kind he hoped (January 2012)
Nigeria's easygoing president made a rare display of emotion when he addressed a private meeting on an arcane-sounding policy that would become one of the most consequential in his nation's recent history. "The impression that he gave was that he'd rather die than not do it," said Clement Nwankwo, the head of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre who was among civil society leaders President Goodluck Jonathan spoke to at the meeting.[...]"
Sustaining NGOs for effective service delivery (January 2012)
The TY Danjuma Foundation recently took up the responsibility of ensuring that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) live above board in service delivery. This they sought to achieve by bringing together NGOs for capacity building, to ensure that they fill in the gap in government services, in the interest of sustainability in Nigeria; Amaka Eze reports. The need for organised non-profit operations in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised; this is more so in view of the fact that the public and private sectors alone cannot begin to drive the country to its deserved destination of greatness.
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor Partner in Nigeria, Ayo Obe