By Udora Orizu
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting him to urgently rescind his assent to the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA 2020) and to send the legislation back to the National Assembly to address its fundamental flaws, including deleting some provisions of the Act, particularly sections 839, 842, 843, 844 and 850 contained in Part F of the Act and any other similar provisions.
The organization is also urging the president to instruct the Registrar-General of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Alhaji Garba Abubakar, and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), not to implement or enforce the CAMA 2020 until the legislation is repealed by the National Assembly, and brought in line with the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
In the letter dated August 22, 2020 and signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said with these provisions, the government now has overly broad and discretionary powers to arbitrarily withdraw, cancel or revoke the certificate of any association, suspend and remove trustees, take control of finances of any association, and merge two associations without their consent and approval of their members.
The letter read in part: “SERAP is concerned that the provisions would be used by the authorities to exert extensive scrutiny over the internal affairs of associations, as a way of intimidation and harassment, which would eventually unduly obstruct the legitimate work carried out by associations.
“We would be grateful if the requested action and measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you and your government to take these measures in the public interest.
“Please note that SERAP has instructed its legal counsel Femi Falana (SAN) to take all appropriate legal actions on our behalf should your government fail and/or neglect to act as requested.
“Citizens’ decision to join with others in pursuit of a common goal is a fundamental aspect of their liberty. The right to freedom of association also plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate. This freedom is at risk if the government can compel a particular citizen, or a discrete group of citizens, to merge their associations.
“Constitutional guarantees of freedom of association would be very limited if they are not accompanied by a guarantee of being able to share one’s beliefs of ideas in community with others, particularly through associations of individuals having the same beliefs, ideas or interests.
“Similarly, freedom of association creates a forum for citizens in which they may freely seek, without any unlawful interference by the state, to move public opinion and achieve their goals. That ‘forum’ cannot exist if the government is at liberty to treat one association as forming part of another or coercing one association to merge with another association.
“By seeking to suspend and remove trustees, and appoint interim managers for associations, government seems to want to place itself in a position to politicise the mandates of such association, and to undermine the ideas that the right to freedom of association and related rights are supposed to protect in a democratic society.
“SERAP believes that the government granting itself the powers to suspend and remove trustees of legally registered associations and to take control of their bank accounts constitute an effective restraint on human rights.
“Allowing the government to take control of the bank accounts of association would impact on the rights of the associations, and also seriously undermine civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights as a whole.
“These rights are in fact parts of the attributes of citizenship under a free government. ‘Liberty’ includes the right to enjoy the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly. Our constitutional jurisprudence and international standards allow only the narrowest range for their restriction.
“Combatting fraud, mismanagement, corruption, money-laundering and other modes of trafficking by associations is legitimate. However, it is not sufficient to simply pursue a legitimate interest, limitations need also to be prescribed by law and be necessary in a democratic society.
“These restrictions have no legal basis, as they fail to meet the requirements of legality, legitimacy, proportionality and necessity. The Human Rights Council has called on states to ensure that any regulations of associations ‘do not inhibit the independence and functional autonomy [of associations]’.
“SERAP considers the CAMA 2020 the most repressive legislation in Nigeria’s history, especially given the unlawful and impermissible restrictions contained in Part F of the Act. Sections 831, 839, 842, 843, 844 and 850 of the Act are manifestly inconsistent with sections 36, 39 and 40 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999.”