Anti-Media Bill Is Evil

By Daniel Omaga

It is no longer news that the 8th Senate has plans to criminalize certain aspects of media practice in Nigeria. These plans have come under heavy criticism from the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Civil Society Organizations and other patriotic Nigerians.

The bill entitled “An Act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith” was purportedly sponsored by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah who is of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Kebbi South.

The bill which scaled through second reading on Wednesday, 2nd December, 2015 recommends jail terms ranging from a mandatory Six months up to Two years or fines of between N 200,000 and N 4,000,000 for petitions written or published through “any medium of whatever description” including facebook, twitter, instagram and other similar channels against public or private individuals without a sworn affidavit in a Federal or State High Court.

We wish to state categorically that the bill is evil as much as it is an attempt to clamp down on journalists, social media petition writers and whistle blowers who might exercise their rights under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) or the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

Our grouse is that while the overwhelming majority of Nigerians are clamouring for credible democracy and happy with the wind of change blowing across the country, certain misfits in the Senate like Na’Allah have abandoned their mandate to legislate for the good of the country and wrongly channeled their efforts towards embarking on a futile exercise in the name of gagging the press and limiting their influence in our democracy.

We are of the firm belief that information participation by all and sundry is necessary for effective democracy and the failure of the government of the day to provide unhindered access to information can lead to monumental corruption and abuse of rights of citizens. In fact, a denial of freedom to access information in public domain is corruption in itself which we must reject if Nigeria is to move out of its present economic cum political quagmire.

We are pleased with the stand taken by President Muhammadu Buhari as expressed on 7th December, 2015 vide Premium Times wherein he reaffirmed the commitment of his administration to the protection of free speech in keeping with democratic tradition. Nigerians must echo that the evil bill be immediately scrapped despite claims by the Senate that content of the bill have been misunderstood. Why should the Senate dissipate energy on a worthless bill such as the extant one instead of joining forces with Mr. President to tackle the more disturbing issues of corruption, poverty, unemployment, ethnic agitations and insecurity presently bedeviling us as a country?

We assume that the Senate is a democratic body consisting of persons with integrity who have their eyes on quality legislation and good governance. However, in the event that the Senate proves us wrong and eventually passes the bill, our hope will lie in the House of Representatives and President Muhammadu Buhari to respectively deny approval to the bill and stop it from becoming a binding law.

In as much as we are not averse to lawful legislation, we are ready to defend the democratic rights of Nigerians with all our might and ensure that the Senate in carrying out their legislative duty must be consistent and operate within the ambit of the Constitution they swore to uphold.

No doubt, free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Therefore, without free speech elected representatives will not be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues.

On a final note, we call on Mr. President to refuse assent to any legislation capable of being inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We urge other sister Civil Society Organizations to lend their voices to the injustice planned to be meted out on the media by the Senate. We must all shout until the evil anti media bill is thrown out of the Senate and Senator Na’Allah bends his head in shame for having misused the mandate graciously given to him by the good people of Kebbi South Senatorial District.

God bless Nigeria!
EDWARD EJEMBI OMAGA is a Trustee/Legal Adviser of Beyond Boundaries Legacy Leadership Initiative (BBLLI) and writes from FCT-Abuja.

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