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Senate Moves To Gag Social Media, Proposes Jail Term for Offenders

Ayodele Afolabi, Abuja

Senate has set legislative machinery in motion for passing into law a bill that seeks to makes it an offence , to petition against public office holder without a sworn affidavit in a regular court, reminiscent of decree 4 of the Military regime era of 1984 and 1985.

This followed the passage of the bill through second reading,  the bill tagged:  “A Bill For An Act To Prohibit Frivolous Petitions And Other Matters Connected There With”, , sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah ( APC Kebbi South).

The Bill specifically makes it punishable with “an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000” on conviction for acting, using or caused to be used any petition or complaint not accompanied by a dully sworn affidavit.

It also provides for mandatory six months imprisonment without an option of fine for any person who unlawfully uses, publish or cause to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a dully sworn affidavit.

Section 4 of the Bill states: “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media, post any abusive statement knowing same to be false, with intent to set the public against any person and/or group of persons, an institution of Government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2 million or both such fine and imprisonment”

Section 3 of the seeming draconian Bill also reads: “Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio, or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, institutions of Government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N4 million.

The senate through the bill, further seeks to make it unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a dully sworn affidavit in the High Court of a State or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.

As a result, the Bill provides that “any petition or complaint not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any Government institution, Agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.

In his lead debate, Senator  Na’Allah reasoned that, with Freedom of Information (FoI) Act in place for unfettered access to public information, it was not right “for this government to continue to waste valuable time and resources in investigating frivolous petitions from the same public”.

He further explained that the “the Bill would assist in shaping our negative thinking by elevating hard work over and above sycophancy and indolence”, adding that Nigeria has been drained of well-meaning civil servants who were shown the exit of public service on the basis of frivolous petitions, only to be replaced by the dishonest ones.

“As a nation with strong desire to move forward, this negative trend must be reversed, if only the desired objectives of the present government is to be met”, he added.

The Bill was later referred to Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, for necessary legislative works and report back in four weeks.



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