Anti-social media bill suffers setback at Senate’s public hearing

Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami

Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami

• CJN throws weight behind bill
The controversial Frivolous Petition Bill 2015, otherwise known as anti-social media bill, suffered serious setback on Monday following overwhelming opposition to it at a public hearing put together by the Senate.

Stakeholders at the public hearing convened by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, which included the Federal Ministry of Justice, legal practitioners in private and public practice, media practitioners, civil societies group and the academia, were unanimous in their opposition to the bill, which they described as an plot to frustrate the current anti-corruption war in the country.

Attorney-General and Minister of Justice at the occasion, Abubakar Malami, who was represented by‎ Mr. Francis Oyong, an Assistant Director in the ministry, said the passage of the bill will adversely affect press freedom and freedom of expression.

He also said the provisions of the bill will hinder quality investigation as most Nigerians living in rural communities, who have petitions, may not have access to courts where they could swear to an affidavit.
The Attorney General said, “If this bill is enacted into law the way it was structured, it will lead to judicial condemnation. What the bill is seeking to regulate is being regulated by the law of defamation. If the bill is passed, it will violate the African Charter of People and Human Rights.

However, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, threw his weight behind the bill saying when passed, it would protect the interest of all.

Represented by Justice Clara Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court, the CJN said the bill was not out to gag the media.
He also urged Nigerians to support the bill, which was sponsored by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah.He lamented that multiple anonymous petitions have became the order of the day, across board in the country.

The CJN said, “The fact is, their freedom of expression in the constitution, it has to be within bond and not be at large. The bill is very laudable going by the fat that it uses the words Frivolous.
“The bill is not out to curb or check excesses and recklessness of all arms of government, its aim is to ensure that only facts are disseminated to the public.
“It is not meant for vengeance but it is out to safeguard the rights and Privileges in the constitution.
“It will serve the purpose of verifying the origin of a petition and provide the relationship between parties involved.

In contrast, the representative of the Nigeria Law Reforms Commission, Mr. Chibuike Okorie, said his agency would not be able to support the bill because what it aimed at achieving had been taken care of by the provisions of the nation’s law.

Okorie argued that the provisions of the bill, if passed, would affect the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war, as it would frustrate internal investigations of frauds within the Ministries, Department and Agencies of Government.

The publisher of Breaking Times, an on-line publication, Mr. Anthony Ehilebo, said over 15 million Nigerians rejected the passage of the bill, barely one week, the campaign started on the social media.

He urged the senators to reject the bill in line with the position of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who had already declared it, “dead on arrival”

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Senator David Umoru, explained that Saraki’s position on the bill is personal and does not in anyway represent the opinion of the upper chamber.

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