Hundreds of protesters stormed the National Assembly yesterday demanding the withdrawal of the controversial ‘Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill’ popularly described as ‘anti-Social Media Bill’.
The protesters, comprising a coalition of civil societies, insisted that the Bill criminalises free speech which is in direct contradiction of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, and Section 39(1) of the country’s 1999 Constitution (as amended).
In a letter to Chairman of the National Assembly and Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the civil societies warned that if the Senate continues legislative processes on the controversial Bill, they will be forced to pressure the international community to impose travel bans on all the Nigerian legislators.
“After years of military dictatorship, Nigeria is finally coming into its own as a vibrant democracy; it is therefore unacceptable and unconscionable for us to return to the league of pariah nations by enacting laws which stifle the fundamental hallmark of any free people: their right to self expression.
“We are of the firm opinion that our request shall be adhered to and the process of turning this bill into law shall be discontinued. However, if it doesn’t, we shall continue to take direct action, including but not limited to pressurising the international community to impose travel bans on all the Nigerian legislators who voted to turn this bill into law and deny citizens their fundamental human right,” the protest letter signed by Aisha Yesufu, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo Atoye, Mukhtar Dan ‘Iyan and Dr. Ahmad Isa on behalf of the civil societies, read.
Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Shehu Sani, who addressed the protesters and received the letter on behalf of Saraki promised to communicate issues raised by the protesters to relevant committees.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday distanced himself from the bill, saying he would continue to guarantee the freedom of the press and not assent to any bill that contradicts the 1999 Constitution.
The senate last week passed for second reading the bill sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’ Allah (Kebbi/APC) seeking two years imprisonment with an option of N2 million fine for Nigerians who post “abusive statements” on the social media.
According to the Bill, it will be unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry without a duly sworn affidavit confirming the content to be true and in accordance with the Oaths Act.
Also, any petition or complaints not accompanied by a sworn affidavit will be incompetent and cannot be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.
Any person, who unlawfully uses, publishes or cause to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit is liable to as much as two-year imprisonment and as high as N4million in fines.
Also, where an individual through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media, posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person or group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law, will be guilty of an offence and liable to 2-year imprisonment or a fine of N2million.