NPAN, NUJ, CSOs reject Social Media Bill
- CNPP asks Senate to apologise
A groundswell of opposition has developed against the move by the Senate to pass the controversial Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill, otherwise known as Social Media Bill, which some stakeholders have described as anti-democratic and abominable in modern society.
Hundreds of protesters yesterday stormed the National Assembly, demanding withdrawal of the Bill.
The protesters, comprising a coalition of civil society organisations, said if passed, the bill would criminalise freedom of speech in contravention of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Section 39 (1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. They carried a letter addressed to the Chairman of the National Assembly and President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The letter was signed by Aisha Yesufu, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo Atoye, Mukhtar Dan ‘Iyan and Ahmad Isa for the groups.
According to a News Agency (NAN) report, the protesters warned that if the senators continued work on the bill, they would pressure the international community to impose travel bans on all Nigerian lawmakers.
`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”, part of the letter read.
Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Shehu Sani, who received the letter on behalf of Saraki, promised to communicate issues raised by the protesters to the relevant committees.
Also yesterday, three groups, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); and the Partnership for Media and Democracy in Nigeria (PAMED), condemned in strong terms the bill being sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’Allah representing Kebbi South District in the Senate.
While NPAN cautioned the National Assembly against considering or passing any law seeking to abridge the constitutionally guaranteed free speech in the country, NUJ described the efforts by the lawmakers to pass a bill to check what they termed abuses by the press, especially on the social media platforms, as abominable and capable of causing irreparable damage to the nation’s democracy.
In a statement by its President, Nduka Obaigbena, NPAN insisted that the Senate cannot because of a few irritations on the social media seek to clamp down on the rights of citizens to freely hold and share opinion on any platform. “We believe any untruths should be confronted by facts, not laws and indeed the Freedom of Information Act should be enhanced to promote more openness in governance.”
PAMED argued that in the light of all the pressing development challenges confronting the country, which should be the priorities of the Senators and all other persons exercising any form of political power or authority, coming up with such anti- media bill is frivolous and unwarranted.
In a statement jointly signed by heads of the organisations that constitute PAMED, Executive Director, Institute of Media and Society (IMESO), Dr. Akin Akingbulu; Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Edetaen Ojo and the Director, International Press Centre (IPC), ‘Lanre Arogundade, the group stated that the bill, through its frivolous content and malicious intent, seeks to achieve nothing other than undermining freedom of expression, press freedom and public participation in governance and democracy.
The NUJ, in a statement by its National Secretary, Shuaibu Usman Leman, said: “The union hopes that this bill is not reflecting the thinking of progressive-minded members of parliament and that equating it to the passage of Freedom of Information Act is untenable as done by one of its principal promoters, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Deputy Minority Leader.”
Also, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) urged the National Assembly to jettison its plan to initiate any laws that will restrict the rights of social media users in the country.
In a statement by the Secretary General of CNPP, Chief Willy Ezugwu yesterday, CNPP demanded that the federal lawmakers apologise to Nigerians for allegedly “wasting public funds in pursuit of a Social Media Bill meant to shield their dirty dealings from public knowledge.”