Last updated: 19 March 2020


The Nigerian Senate had long been considering a Social Media Bill, and a public hearing on the Bill was finally held on March 9, 2020 in Abuja. Dozens of CSOs worked together to challenge the restrictive legislation, which includes imposing a heavy fine on anyone who fails to comply with an order from the police to correct or remove a statement. The chair of the public hearing indicated that the Senate committee would not negatively impact the people’s wishes.

In addition, on March 17, 2020, a restrictive Bill to Establish a Civil Societies Regulatory Commission was withdrawn by its sponsor at the House of Representatives, as it was pointed out that the proposed new Corporate Affairs Commission Act already had everything necessary to ensure credibility among CSOs. Meanwhile, the Bill for an act to Provide for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches and for Other Related Matters, which contains several provisions restrictive of the right to freedom of speech, was reintroduced in November 2019 for consideration in the Senate. This was despite it having been abandoned in June 2019. Please see the Pending NGO Legislative/Regulatory Initiatives section below in this report for further details.


Nigeria is a federal republic of thirty-six states and a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, whose basic law is the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As a former British colony, the legal system of Nigeria follows the common law tradition, but there is also a 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 organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some of them came into existence even before the country was formed in 1914 and others in the period before independence in October 1960. Many others have formed 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, including local ‘elites’ clubs, traditional age class associations, unions in villages and small towns, and national organizations with thousands of members. While not every group or association must register, those that wish to enjoy the benefits of legal personality or the limited tax advantages that may be available must be registered or incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), Cap. C20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

One issue of pressing concern to civil society, and especially humanitarian groups in the northeast, is terrorism. Although the government has declared Boko Haram defeated, both Boko Haram and Islamic State-affiliate ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa Province) have continued to make attacks in Nigeria, including targeting the convoy of the Borno State Governor in March 2019 and Nigerian army commanders in January 2020.  However, the Nigerian Army has taken the fight to the terrorists, and they appear to have been unable to re-establish themselves as a ‘caliphate’ as they had done in 2014.

But life is insecure for inhabitants of states in the North-Eastern zone of the country, as they are subject to attacks or outright robbery or extortion whereby farmers are forced to deliver part of their yield to the insurgents or risk losing the entire crop. The tactics of Nigerian security agencies in the war against Boko Haram have also led to accusations of human rights abuses, to which their standard reaction has mostly been to attack the integrity, patriotism, or motives of those making the accusations (while  agreeing to investigate some egregious or well-attested incidents). This has implications for the relationship between freedom of speech and the secrecy and/or propaganda associated with wars and the morale of those fighting them.

While the war in northeast is being waged, there has also been an increase in violence from ‘bandits’ in several northern states, such as Zamfara State, where the Governor complained that the security agencies were worse equipped than the criminals.  Although there was a decrease in herder-farmer violence in the Middle Belt, perceptions of bias on the part of law enforcement agencies exists against the background of the crackdown on the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo organization that seeks independence for the southeast and other adjacent non-Igbo areas. IPOB was declared a terrorist organization in 2017 and its leader was arrested, but after being released on bail, he disappeared. Rumours that then spread through social media that the Federal Government had killed him were proven false when he appeared at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. By contrast, none of the leaders of any of the sections of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, which speaks for nomadic herders who are mostly Fulanis (as is the President), appear to have even been invited for questioning or been cautioned by the security agencies, despite combative and threatening statements made in reaction to grazing bans in some states, or the establishment of a regional security outfit in the southwestern states, Àmọtẹkùn. However, individual perpetrators of attacks by herders have been arrested and charged in several Middle Belt and Southern States.

Another group which complains of being treated differently in Nigeria is the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, which was banned in July 2019 for “engaging in acts which were both terrorist and illegal”  following a protest in Abuja over the continued detention of its leader, Sheik al-Zakzaky, in which eleven protesters, one journalist and one police officer were killed.  The group is Shi’ite, while most of Nigeria’s Muslims are Sunni: however, other Shi’ite sects operate in Nigeria.

The herder-settler conflict illustrates that Nigeria faces the same problems of deeply divisive and often false information spread through both social media and mainstream media that other countries have faced in their own democratic processes. The role of social media in spreading disinformation using false pictures (e.g., to portray armed herders and scenes of massacres which may be sourced from entirely different countries) presents a problem to which the government has responded with generalized stigmatiaation of all negative reports as ‘hate speech’ or ‘fake news.’

Supporters of the current administration introduced two bills before the National Assembly:  The Bill for An Act to Provide for The Prohibition of Hate Speeches and For Other Related Matters (the ‘Hate Speech Bill’); and the Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill (‘the Social Media Bill’).  Both propose sweeping powers and draconian punishments, and are strongly opposed by Nigerian civil society groups.  Such legislation would also have to survive any challenge based on the constitutional right to freedom of speech, as well as provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors elected in the February and March 2019 elections were sworn in on May 29, 2019. On October 30, 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the election petition and challenging the outcome of the presidential election filed by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Organizational FormsCivil society organizations (CSOs)
Registration BodyCorporate Affairs Commission
Approximate NumberDigitization has improved record-keeping, while decentralization has improved access for those searching for information on individual companies.
Barriers to Entry1 – 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.
4- Ban on the registration of gay clubs, societies or organizations.
Barriers to Activities1 – 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.
4- Ban on the registration of gay clubs, societies or organizations.
5- President has the power to prohibit groups even if they are unregistered.
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyThe Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014 not only makes same sex marriage illegal, but it also provides that: “Any person or group of persons that … supports the registration, operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence …”

Bloggers and journalists who are critical of the country’s leaders, particularly at the State level, face increasing pressure, arrest, beatings, and threats to stop reporting, while the government has also resorted to treason-related charges where demonstrators call for the removal or resignation of elected leaders.

Barriers to International ContactNone
Barriers to ResourcesNone
Barriers to AssemblyFailure to provide protection for and excessive use of force on protests that oppose government policies and excessive government control over the route and time of protests.
Population214,028,302 (July 2020 est.)
Type of GovernmentFederal Republic
Life Expectancy at BirthTotal population: 60.4 years (2020 est.)
Male: 58.6 years (2020 est.)
Female: 62.3 years (2020 est.)
Literacy RateMale: 72.1%
Female: 52.7% (2018 est.)
Religious GroupsMuslim, Christian, indigenous
Ethnic Groups250 or more, including Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Idoma, Nupe
GDP Per Capita$5,900 (2017 est.)

Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, (Washington, DC).

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index158 (2019)1 – 188
World Bank Rule of Law Index19 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index35 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International146 (2019)1 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Partly Free
Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 5 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States IndexRank: 14 (2019)178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1993
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)No
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1993
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1967
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1984
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenYes2004
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1991
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)Yes2010
Key Regional AgreementsRatification*Year
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)Yes1975

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The current Constitution of Nigeria came into force on May 29, 1999 and has been amended (altered) four times as follows:

  1. May 2010: First Constitution Alteration Act (mostly election-related changes)
  2. May 2010: Second Constitution Alteration Act (further election-related changes)
  3. February 2011 (National Industrial Court of Nigeria)
  4. May 2018: Fourth Constitution Alteration Act (several changes, including reduction in age limits for standing for election, time limits for election petitions, term limits for Vice President/Deputy Governor who completes a principal’s term, and financial autonomy for state legislatures and state judiciary)

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:

Section 39:

  1. Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

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

1. The Bill for An Act to Provide for The Prohibition of Hate Speeches and For Other Related Matters was presented in the National Assembly in March 2018 but was later abandoned in June 2019 following strong public criticism. In November 2019, the Bill was re-introduced for consideration before the National Assembly where it currently remains. The Bill prohibits ethnic discrimination and hate speech, creates a wide range of offenses with accompanying penalties, and establishes an Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches. There is concern that several provisions of the Bill may unduly restrict the freedom of expression in contravention of international law. For example:

– Section 4 (1) of the Bill defines “hate speech” as the use, publication, presentation, production, play, provision, distribution or direction of the performance of any material whether written or visual that is, “threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior.” Moreover, an individual commits an offense if he or she expresses “hate speech” with the “intention thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such ethnic group in Nigeria.”

– Section 4(2) of the Bill contains punishments that do not adhere to principles of necessity and proportionality by providing that a person who commits hate speech shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.

– The scope of the offense of ethnic harassment is overly broad in Section 5.

2. The Nigerian parliament had long been considering a Social Media Bill and a public hearing on the Bill was finally held on March 9, 2020 in Abuja. Dozens of CSOs, however, worked together to challenge the restrictive legislation, which includes imposing a heavy fine on anyone who fails to comply with an order from the police to correct a statement. The chair of the public hearing indicated that the senate committee would not negatively impact the people’s wishes.

3. In June 2014, CSOs received the draft Bill to Regulate the Acceptance and Utilization of Financial/Material Contributions of Donor Agencies to Voluntary Organizations (“NGO Regulation Bill”). The Bill imposes a number of restrictions on the ability of organizations to receive contributions from foreign sources. According to a preliminary analysis, the most problematic provisions are as follows:

  • Prior Approval is required to receive foreign funding (Section 2);
  • Registration is a pre-requisite for accepting foreign funding (Section 3);
  • Broad and vague grounds can be used to to deny a CSO’s request to receive foreign funding if the government deems such contribution is likely to affect “the sovereignty and integrity of Nigeria; adverse diplomatic relation of any foreign country; religious harmony in Nigeria; or be a likely source of money laundering” (Section 5);
  • There is a lengthy approval period and lack of procedural protections when CSOs seek approval from the government to receive foreign funding (Section 4);
  • There are vague and unclear financial reporting requirements (Sections 3 & 7);
  • The government may seize a voluntary organization’s accounts and records for up to four months without bringing a proceeding before a court (Section 9);
  • Any violation of the Bill is punishable by imprisonment for two years (Section 12);
  • Funding must be routed through a Nigerian bank (Section 3(ii)); and
  • The Bill applies to all “voluntary organizations,” but the definition of this designation is unclear (Section 14)

At a public hearing in December 2016 the Bill was strongly opposed for being a duplication of the pre-existing SCUML (anti money-laundering) legislation. Feedback from public hearings about the Bill have highlighted a number of flaws, which has made it seem doubtful whether the attempts at controlling the civil society sector, as exemplified in the Bill, would be pursued in the present 8th Assembly. However, the fact that there appear to be three other Bills with the same aim of regulating the CSO sector and controlling its finances under discussion show that despite Constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, it does not seem that the National Assembly intends to give up on efforts to control CSOs even if the Bill and proposals are thwarted. These three other Bills are: Non-Governmental Organizations Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2016 (see #3 below); Civil Society Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2016 (see #2 below); and Civil Society Commission of Nigeria Bill, 2016.

4. The National Conference submitted its report to President Jonathan on August 21, 2014.  Among its resolutions were recommendations on civil society issues. The Conference proposed the creation of a “Civil Society Regulatory Commission (CSRC),” which would be “peopled by civil society activists and … free from undue state’s interference that will regulate the conduct and activities of civil society organizations in Nigeria,” with the following functions:

  1. Registering CSOs in Nigeria;
  2. Sanctioning CSOs that abuse the ethics or rules of the Commission; and
  3. Proposing that grants be made available by the National Assembly to CSOs.

The Conference report proposed that “statutory funds to be known as ‘Civil Society Grants/Funds be annually appropriated by the National Assembly for civil society activities, in order to strengthen the ability of CSOs to perform their watchdog roles, act as checks against impunity by state actors, and to enthrone an open, just and accountable society.  The Fund/Grant shall be managed by the CSRC.”

The National Conference also recommended the enactment of a “Civil Society Consultation Act” to inter alia:

  1. Formalize some level of civic power within the three tiers of government in Nigeria;
  2. Strengthen the link between citizen rights to participate in governance and actual participation itself;
  3. Mandate that government put in place structures and programs for consulting and dialoguing with citizen organizations;
  4. Define the level of civil society representation and participation in public regulatory bodies;
  5. Provide in clear terms the way in which government must involve civil society in drawing up the budget and implementing it;
  6. Provide for Annual General Assembly between government and civil society or Annual National Conference between civil society and government;
  7. Provide for Town Hall Meetings between Civil Society and Chairmen of Local Councils; and
  8. Provide for periodic evaluation of both official and unofficial spaces of citizen participation in governance. This will be with a view of reinforcing both models and getting the best out of them.

None of the decisions of the National Conference are self-executing, and those regarding civil society would require legislation.  To the extent that constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association might be affected, some of the above proposals might also require constitutional amendments.  The National Conference could not agree (by consensus) whether it was proposing mere amendments to the existing Constitution (which would be effected in the same way as the previous amendments thereto) or whether it was proposing a new Constitution that would require ratification by referendum. It has therefore referred the matter to President Goodluck Jonathan for his decision.

The proposal for a Civil Society Regulatory Commission proposed by the National Conference has been overtaken by the NGO Regulation Bill (referred to in #1 above). Although a CSO went to court to stop the National Assembly from debating the NGO Regulation Bill on grounds that it is unconstitutional, CSOs were unable to stop a public hearing on the Bill, which took place in December 2017. The CSO community therefore mobilized to make a strong showing at the public hearing. After the public hearing, the draft Bill, which passed a second reading in the lower house of parliament, was going to be publicly debated ahead of a final reading and vote.

In addition, decisions of the National Conference, which was organized by the previous administration in 2014, are increasingly becoming irrelevant because the present administration is unlikely to implement any of them. That said, some of its decisions have been adopted by the current National Assembly, as happened with the NGO Regulation Bill.

5. Deputy Majority Leader of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Umar Buba Jibril, has insisted on the need to pass a controversial Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2016, saying the fraudulent activities of some NGOs and their excesses necessitate a law to put them in check. Former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, however, believes there are existing laws that only need to be implemented and that the Bill is designed to restrict NGOs. Jibril countered in a statement that recent developments have shown that some Nigerians had registered NGOs, solicited funds, and disappeared, while some NGOs had been used to fund the activities of terrorist and insurgents. He said many NGOs operating in Nigeria do not have a definite reason for being in existence other than using their names to fleece international donor agencies of huge sums of money on behalf of Nigeria.

The House of Representatives reacted angrily to a campaign to raise awareness against the Bill in the run-up to public hearings on the Bill originally scheduled in September 2017 and insisted that its requirements were similar to those applicable in other countries such as Israel and Kenya. The National Human Rights Commission has opposed the Bill as an unnecessary duplication of powers better addressed by the Companies and Allied Matters Act and an infringement on the human rights of Nigerians.

Public hearings were held on the Bill on December 13 and 14, 2017. While NGOs mounted an organized campaign and made submissions to the House of Representatives Committee on civil society and development matters, the sponsor of the Bill, Umar Buba Jibril, failed to appear at the public hearing to challenge them or put any arguments in favor of the Bill. Some members of the public nonetheless issued memoranda in support of the Bill. At the close of the public hearings, the House of Representatives Committee chair stated that, “We do not have the final say over this bill but I want to assure you that we will make our recommendations based on all you have said here and you will be pleased with our recommendations.”

In September 2019, the speaker of the lower legislative chamber, Femi Gbajabiamila, hinted that the lawmakers may reintroduce the Bill. This came against a background of mounting public concern at the spate of insecurity in the country, including not only the continuing insurgency in the northeast in which Boko Haram and its rival offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), continue their attacks and hold sway over parts of the countryside, but also banditry and kidnapping in different parts of the country.

The Bill contains a number of problematic provisions.

Regarding registration:

  • The Bill makes registration mandatory for all NGOs operating in Nigeria (Section 11).
  • The Bill provides that an organization’s application for registration include extensive, detailed information, including the location and duration of all proposed activities and all sources of funding. Furthermore, the Bill makes the list of required information unrestricted, allowing that “the Board may prescribe” additional information that an organization must submit in its application (Section 11). Likewise, there is no limit on the fees that an organization must pay in order to register; the Bill provides only that “the Agency may from time to time prescribe” such fees (Section 12). The Bill also provides that the certificate issued by the Agency will serve as an organization’s proof of registration and authorization to carry out activities in Nigeria. However, the Agency has unlimited authority to prescribe any additional terms and conditions in the certificate, with which the organization must comply (Section 14). An NGO that violates the terms of the certificate can have its registration suspended or cancelled (Section 18(a)).
  • Under the Bill, the Regulatory Agency For The Supervision, Coordination And Monitoring Of Non-Governmental Organizations (the “Agency”) has broad discretion to refuse to issue a registration certificate, and to suspend or cancel a registration certificate that has been issued. It may refuse to register an organization, for instance, if it determines that the organization’s proposed activities “are not in the national interest” (Section 15).
  • The Bill requires that organizations repeat the registration process every two years (Section 14). Any organization that fails to do so will have its name removed from the register and must cease activities (Section 17). The organization has no opportunity to remedy its failure to reregister if, for instance, it misses the renewal deadline. Moreover, the Bill provides that registration renewal is dependent on the organization’s submission of unspecified “relevant documentation” as determined by the Board (Section 16(2)) and a tax clearance certificate (Section 30(2)).

Regarding government approval of projects and financial reporting:

  • The Bill requires prior approval of all in-country projects by the relevant government Ministry, followed by registration of the project with the Board of the Agency (Section 25(1)) prior to any project implementation (Section 26(2)).
  • The Bill requires that if a significant percentage of donor contributions to an organization go to meet the “economic, social and cultural” needs of a “target group,” the organization must “consult and seek the approval and collaboration of the Ministry concerned with the activity to ensure that the project is in line with the objective of the Government” (Section 24(1)(b)). “Target group” is not defined and it is unclear how the approval requirement of Section 24 differs from the approval requirements of Sections 25 and 26, or if additional permission is needed based on the identity of the target beneficiaries.
  • The Bill also states that any assets “transferred to build the capacity of an organization should be done through the Agency, which will identify the operation criteria.” It is unclear how assets transferred to build capacity are different from funding referred to elsewhere in this section, but this section appears to require funding for capacity-building to be sent from the donor to the Agency instead of the organization. It is also unclear what is meant by “operation criteria,” or how a transfer of assets would be conducted through the Agency. This provision violates organizations right to access resources which is an essential component of the right to associate (A/HRC/23/39).
  • Section 28 of the Bill contains requirements affecting organizations’ financial reporting. Many of these provisions are framed broadly, and in ambiguous language that may make them difficult for organizations to implement. For example, the Bill requires an organization to “submit the details of the funds pledged by donors for project implementation” (Section 28(1)). However it does not provide more specific information about the timing and frequency of this submission, such as whether it must be provided on an annual, quarterly, or project basis. The funding disclosure must include “the amounts of money pledged, the sources of funding, the details of the donors and any other details of installment [sic] arrangements or any other requirements” (Section 28(2)). It is unclear what “any other requirements” might entail; an open-ended list is problematic as additional, more burdensome items may be required.

Regarding judicial oversight and criminal penalties:

  • According to the Bill, an organization has a sixty-day window to appeal any of the Agency’s decisions to the Ministry of National Planning. The Minister must decide on the matter within thirty days, and the decision is “final.” The Bill does not provide for any judicial or otherwise independent oversight, even for crucial matters such as the granting and withdrawal of registration certificates.
  • The Bill provides for harsh criminal penalties for individuals in case of any violation of the Bill. The Bill specifically criminalizes the operation of an NGO in Nigeria “for welfare, research, health relief, agriculture education, industry, the supply of amenities” that has not first registered. An individual operating an unregistered NGO may face a steep fine or 18 months’ imprisonment. Further, any individual so convicted is disqualified from holding office in an NGO for ten years. NGO members are thus exposed to severe criminal punishments that will create a chilling effect on their exercise of the right to freedom of association.

Regarding other issues:

  • Section 2 stipulates that the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and six members of the Board will be nominated by “different interest groups within the Non-Governmental Organization family,” (Section 2(1)(a)), while “[a]ppointment into the Board shall be by election among the Non-Governmental Organizations.” It is unclear which different interest groups will be responsible for nominating the Board leadership, as well as if and how all CSOs will be fairly represented in this process.
  • The Bill seeks to group CSOs under a new organizational form, “Non-Governmental Organization,” defined as “a private voluntary grouping of individuals or associations, not operating for profit or for other commercial purposes but which have organized themselves nationally or internationally for the promotion of social welfare, development, charity, or research.” This definition could be interpreted to exclude organizations primarily engaged in work that is not explicitly referenced, such as advocacy organizations.
  • Throughout the Bill, vague language creates uncertainty. For example, Section 7 and Part VII of the Bill refer to a “commission,” when discussing the functions of the Agency, while Section 20(3) refers to a “Council” which appears to refer to the Board.

6. The House of Representatives is considering Improved Aid Effectiveness, Accountability and Co-operation for Donor Recipients Bill, 2016. This Bill seeks to provide a framework for timely publication, transparent reporting and disclosure by all donor and development partners of application of donor funds in Nigeria. The Bill has passed second reading and has been referred to the Committee on Aid, Loans and Debt Management for further legislative input.

7. The Nigerian Agency for Foreign Assistance Bill, 2015 had its second reading in December 2016 and is awaiting the report of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This Bill seeks to establish “The Nigerian Agency for Foreign Assistance (NAFFA)”.  The proposed Agency would be empowered to manage and coordinate all foreign assistance or aid in Nigeria.  It would also act as an advisory body to the Federal Government on all foreign assistance matters and monitor the implementation of and compliance with all Federal Government directives and incentives.

8. The Lagos State Government plans to review the state’s 2003 Media Law (Newspaper Law Cap No. 2 of 2003) but insists the review is not for the purpose of stifling the media, but to “move with the trends and development of the time.” The State Commissioner for Information and Strategy assured in May 2017 that once the review is completed, media stakeholders will be invited to a meeting in order to intimate them with the provisions of the law and their obligations before its enactment. He also said the review is about “how the ministry can be empowered to register online media and track who is who and from where they are operating.”

9. Following the 2016 revision of FATF Recommendation 8, which now calls on countries to apply proportionate measures only towards NPOs identified as being at risk, the Federal Government conducted a National Risk Assessment.  However, it was not published, so it is not known whether the Federal Government carried out any risk assessment of the not-for-profit sector that would have implications for the sector.

10. The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on December 19, 2017 and by the Senate on March 13, 2018. The Bill is “an act to provide for the protection of human rights online” and “to protect internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platform and/or digital media and for related matters.” Public hearings on the Bill were held as early as December 2016 and are available on YouTube. Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), described the Bill as “a strong piece of legislation that seeks to effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment in accordance with the global norms and standards that Nigeria has helped to establish.” MRA has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Bill into law as soon as he receives it from the National Assembly, saying it is the most practical way for his Administration to demonstrate its support for Internet freedom for Nigerians. However, President Buhari declined to sign it in March 2019.

11. Lagos State’s plans to tax churches and mosques has run into opposition as a result o the huge increases in land tax, and Governor Ambode has been forced to announce that churches and mosques would be exempted. Calls were made in January 2018 for NGOs to also be exempted.

12. At its plenary session on May 15, 2018, the Senate passed the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2018 (SBs 355 and 384), which will replace the existing legislation regulating the registration of corporate bodies. According to CSO experts, the focus of the Bill is geared towards business and profit-generating entities and the encouragement of entrepreneurs, rather than CSOs and the not-for-profit sector. This document provides an explanation of the reasons why the Senate opted for repeal and re-enactment of CAMA rather than a simple amendment, and what the major proposed changes. The House of Representatives held it its first reading of the Bill on November 13, 2018 and in January 2019 passed and harmonized the Bill with legislation passed by the Senate. The Bill was then sent to the Senate for concurrence, but President Buhari had not yet assented to the Bill as of March 2020.

The provisions relating to Incorporated Trustees are covered by Part C, in sections 579-606, and are discussed here. A commentary on the Bill is also here.

Organizational Forms

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).

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 are 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 several 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. However, they must comply with the same rules as local organizations. This means they are prohibited from having a name that may be acceptable in their home countries but which could be interpreted in Nigeria to be the name of a government body (thus “National” in the name of a foreign CSO could be considered problematic).

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 a 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.

LGBTQ Organizations. The registration of LGBTQ clubs, societies and organizations are prohibited under Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which President Jonathan signed into law in January 2014.  It should be noted, however, that no society or organization that is formed for unlawful purposes can be registered in any event, but the Act specifically bars the registration of LGBTQ organizations.

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 the 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.

Prohibition on LGBTQ clubs, societies, and meetings. In January 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which bans same-sex marriages and civil unions and prohibits the registration of LGBTQ clubs, societies or meetings in Nigeria.  It also prohibits their “sustenance, processions and meetings.” It is not required that any group of people register, but the President has the power to prohibit groups or organisations even if they are unregistered. The Act appears to prohibit LGBTQ clubs and organisations even without the need for presidential intervention; however, the constitutionality of this provision against freedom of assembly and association guarantees has not yet been tested.

Foreign Organizations.  Foreign CSOs may be incorporated just as local CSOs under CAMA, but must comply with the same rules as local organizations with regard to names which are acceptable in their home countries, but which are deemed to be capable of being interpreted as the names of government bodies.“

Case of Borno State and Boko Haram. This military effort has put Boko Haram on the back foot since 2015, with reports that some of its members are attempting to blend into the local population in Borno State, which is the locus of the insurgency. There are concerns about Boko Haram retreating to local villages or even IDP camps and the government has been embarrassed over reports of starvation in northeastern Nigeria. There have also been reports of the government appropriation of aid intended for IDPs and other abuses of IDPs. Governor Shettima of Borno State also condemned the UN and other international CSOs for profiting from the crisis and spending more on themselves and armored vehicles than on IDPs or the population. When this attracted blowback from the UN and the international community, the Governor said that he had been referring to local NGOs. Although no local CSOs working in Borno State have funds for armored vehicles, the Borno State Government now requires all local CSOs to register and gain accreditation. The process does not appear to be settled and is thus considered to be haphazard, but all CSOs are affected and not only CSOs working with IDPs.

In terms of operations in Borno State, NGOs have been required to go to the Borno State Government House to collect a 15-page registration form, which required nearly 70 supporting documents.  These requirements have been modified but the process is still unsettled.  At first the Borno State Government said that NGOs that had not been registered or accredited would not be permitted to enter IDP camps or to hold workshops. This has also been modified, but the Department of State Security (DSS) has attended a number of CSO workshops and attempted to stop them on the grounds that they have not been authorized. There are also increasingly frequent checks by the Nigerian Immigration Service on the immigration status of CSO members.

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.

The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014 does not prohibit any advocacy for a change in the law on homosexuality, but makes it an offence to “support the registration, operation, and sustenance of LGBTQ clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria …” After an initial wave of activity, there appears to be little effort on behalf of the government to enforce the provisions of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. However, a challenge to the Act failed when the Federal High Court in Abuja struck the case for lack of standing.

Bloggers have come under increasing pressure in Nigeria since 2016, especially when they have challenged the ruling party. For example, Abubakar Usman, who is known for his strong pro-APC views (APC is the ruling party), was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged cyberstalking in August 2016. The EFCC said Mr. Usman’s activities contradicted sections of the Cybercrime Act. Usman was released after spending more than 36 hours in custody but was placed on ​ ​administrative bail with conditions that he must make himself available to the EFCC whenever he receives an “invitation” from the EFCC.

The trends did not improve in 2017, with reports of the Kaduna State Government arresting those whom it accused of making false reports on the Internet. In addition, the Nasarawa State Urban Development Board demolished Breeze FM, a privately owned station that was licensed by the National Broadcasting Commission. Furthermore, two journalists were beaten and later told to never write anything against the Ebonyi State government (see the News Items section below in this report for more details).

Similar trends continued in 2019. For example, a journalist, Agba Jalingo, was kept in police detention for over a week over a report about an alleged diversion of N500 million by the Cross River governor. Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, a Cross River State-based newspaper, was charged with treason. The SSS also took Omoyele Sowore into custody because Sowore, a social critic and publisher of Sahara Reporters, called for a revolution in Nigeria. The SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, told reporters, however, he was unable to say whether or not the SSS had any credible intelligence that confirmed Sowore had the capacity to execute a takeover of government in Nigeria.

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 CSOs, with a view to ensuring that they operate in line with Nigeria’s direction and vision.

Barriers to Resources

There are no major legal barriers to resources under Nigerian law. A CSO may conduct business activities directly, but where incorporated with trustees or limited