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Before Saraki And Co Gag Nigerians

By Gabriel Okoro
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Every progressive mind and lover of free speech must rise in lampooning the proposed anti-social media bill by the Nigerian Senate, surreptitiously styled “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith’’. The proposed bill, for want of proper description, is repressive, oppressive and reprehensible, and should be rejected by Nigerians.

Sponsored by one of the major beneficiaries of the social media in the last election, the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, the bill, among other things, seeks to criminalize ”abusive statements” on social media by proposing two years imprisonment with an option of N2million in fine. The same goes for anyone who”unlawfully” publishes a complaint not duly accompanied or supported by a sworn affidavit. Such an individual risks a two-year jail term or option of N4million. Curiously, the bill has passed a Second Reading in the Senate with little or no publicity about it. But save for the wide and timely publicity being given to the bill by the media, Nigerians would have woken up one day to realize that they could no longer publicly criticize or comment on the excesses of their senators or representatives without a legal endorsement. Yet the lawmakers derive their mandates from the Nigerian people.

It remains despicable that at the time when there are critical national issues begging for immediate attention, even as the people yearn for more probity and better governance, the Nigerian senate finds this frivolous bill worthy of giving a hurried recognition. It is interesting that the same Senate under the leadership of its embattled president, Senator Bukola Saraki, which promised to run a more transparent Senate at its inauguration, is the one proposing this anti-transparency bill. Senator Bala does not see any urgency in sponsoring a bill that would help to alleviate the sufferings and challenges of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) scattered all over Nigeria as a result of the insurgency in the Northern Nigeria, the very constituency of the Senator. The Senate, perhaps, sees the curtailing of the Nigerians’ freedom of expression more crucial than the passing into law the Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB) which has the propensity of addressing the putrefy in the oil industry with its positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

It is worrisome that Saraki and his members would embark on this profligacy of public resources knowing too well that, by virtue of our grundnorm, Constitution of the Federal Republican of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the bill is already dead on arrival. Free speech and right of expression, in case the Senators have forgotten, are eminently guaranteed under Chapter 4 of the aforesaid law, Articles 9 and 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively, which Nigeria is a signatory. The import, therefore, is that the proposed bill will amount to exercise in futility as same will certainly be set aside by a competent court for being at variance with Sections 1 (1) (3) and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Our courts have never slumbered when it comes to protecting the sanctity and supremacy of the Constitution and its bindingness on the leaders and the subjects. Adekeye, JSC (as she then was), in HOPE DEMOCRATIC PARTRY V OBI (2012) FWLR (PT.612) [P. 1644, paras E-H], captured this position thus: “The constitution is the supreme law of the land, therefore the provisions are superior to every provision embodied in any Act or law and are binding on all persons and authorities in Nigeria. The failure to follow any of the provisions renders the steps taken unconstitutional, null and void. Such act must be set aside by the court.”

It is regrettable that Senator Bala, who is a lawyer, is the brain behind this constitutional affront. More appalling is the fact that the 8th Senate, which majority of its members rode on the back of social media and traditional media to their present positions, are already trying to pull down the ladder that aided them to the top. But truth is, Nigerians have traversed this path in the past and are fully prepared to resist it by all possible legitimate means. It is a relief that the executive arm has washed off its hands from the primitive bill. It is now crystal clear that Saraki’s Senate is purely on a vendetta mission against the Nigerian populace which has consistently questioned its lackluster attitude towards its legislative duty since inception. The Senate is strongly advised to jettison this unpopular move and save itself and the country the unnecessary embarrassments and distractions the bill will throw up.

Okoro Gabriel, Esq. Lagos.

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