Senate bows to public pressure, withdraws anti-social media bill

Bukola Saraki
Senate President, Bukola Saraki

The Senate has withdrawn the Frivolous Petition Bill sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’Allah.

The controversial bill was seen as an attempt to restrict freedom of expression.

The withdrawal of the bill followed the report of the upper chamber’s Committee on Human Rights and Legal Matters submitted by David Umar on Tuesday.

The report made it clear the bill amounted to violation of citizens’ rights, and contradicted extant laws, imposing duty of investigation on petitioners and serving as stumbling block to the fight against corruption.

The introduction of the bill, last year, by lawmakers who frequently come under media spotlight because of huge salary they draw despite relatively low output, sparked widespread outrage across the country.

The intendment of the bill, Mr. Umaru said, while presenting his report, was to check “upsurge of frivolous petitions and publications in the social media”.

However, he noted that, by implication, the bill would “tacitly” impose on “the petitioners the work of investigation.

Stressing that the bill could repress citizens’ rights and recalling “opposition of stakeholders” to the bill during the public hearing attended by media and civil society organisations, Mr. Umaru urged the Senate to jettison the bill.

“Any law perceived as infringing citizens’ righhts should be jettisoned,” Mr. Umaru stressed. “The passage of the bill cannot be supported as it will affect anti-corruption war of the Government. It will do more harm than good.”

He also submitted that a passage of the bill would mean contradiction or duplication of extant laws including those of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission, terrorism prohibition and defamation.

He added that the bill’s proposal to restrict usage of text messages, tweets, WhatsApp to transfer “any abusive statement”, was unnecessary as electronic media tools were already regulated by the Nigerian Communication Commission.

Therefore, reading the recommendation of the Committee, Mr. Umaru “negatively reported” that the bill be withdrawn by the Senate to safeguard democracy and citizens’ freedom of expression.

The report was adopted by the Senate after gaining favourable voice vote called by the Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate President.

But before the adoption, Dino Melaye (APC-Kogi State) and Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio (PDP-Akwa-Ibom), spoke in support of rejection of the bill citing “public opinion”, “democracy”, and “the need to protect whistle-blowers”.

In his remarks, Mr. Ekweremadu said the rejection of the bill by the Senate, buckling under public pressure, showed that initiation of a bill did not translate to passage.

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