A group of protesters, including broadcasters, new media entrepreneurs and civil society activists, on Tuesday, staged a peaceful protest to the National Assembly complex to register their opposition to “the Frivolous Petitions and other related matters Bill” proposed by the Senate.
The proposed law seeks to impose heavy punishment on anybody who “falsely” criticise government officials and institutions.
After the bill passed second reading last week, the Nigerian Senate came under severe public criticism. The senate claims the bill will not suppress free speech.
President Muhammadu Buhari said on Monday he will not approve any law that violates constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
The protesters, led by Aisha Yusuf, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo Atoye, Mukhtar Daniyan, and Ahmad Isa, popularly called Ordinary Ahmed, insisted that the bill was targeted at gagging the media.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters read: “#Notosocialmediabill”, “#NotoGagLaws”, “#Ourrighttofreespeech” “#Freedomisourright”.
The protesters were allowed into the National Assembly complex, unlike in the past when protesters were stopped at the first gate.
They were addressed by senators Shehu Sani (APC-Kaduna State) and Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia State).
Addressing the lawmakers and journalists, Mr. Ahmed said, “We voted you all in and you all used the social and conventional media…now you are in the house you now feel the same medium should be clamped down.
“There are so many things spanning across health and educational sectors to attend to rather than this wuru wuru bill.
“People are dying on a daily basis because of the poor medical and health facilities
“We shall call them back if this is their plans for us and replace them with people who can defend us.
“We are disappointed with the likes of Ibn N’allah and Dino Melaye
“We are disappointed in our senate, they promised us open NASS now they want to shut us up.
“We have over 1 million IDPs, unemployment challenges.
“Nigerians are very disappointed with the 8th senate.
“Our senators should know that Nigerians are in a state of emergency.”
Responding, Mr. Sani said, “We fully assure you that we are going to take your message that Nigerians are saying “NAY!!!!” to this bill.
“It is not possible to fight corruption without freedom of speech.
“The views you are here to express is heard all over the world and we fully assure you that this is not the end of it.
“We fully assure you that the senate will do everything within its power to address your cries,” he said.
Mr. Abaribe also corroborated Mr. Sani’s assurance that the Senate would not introduce any law suppressing free speech.
Later, Mr. Abaribe presented the group’s letter to the senate, and the senate president, Bukola Saraki, directed the committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters to investigate the claims of the protesters.