A bill seeking a two-year jail term for any person who makes allegation or publishes any statement or petition in the newspaper, radio or medium of whatever description against another person, institutions of government or any public office holder, passed second reading in the Senate, yesterday.
The bill also prescribed that anybody or group of persons who send any false text message or post false message on the social media against another person shall be jailed for two years upon conviction by the law court.
The bill, tagged: “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”, sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, compels petitioners to accompany their petitions with sworn court affidavit, failure of which attracts a six- month imprisonment upon conviction.
But the bill provides for an option of N4 million for persons convicted of false newspaper, radio and television statements and N2 million for offenders of false phone text messages or messages on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
“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 N4,000,000.00”,the bill specified.
On the social media, the bill read: “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 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 N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
The bill said it shall be an offence for any petition to be submitted without a sworn affidavit from the law court.
“Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be an 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 duly 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.”
Senator Ibn Na’Allah sponsored the bill
“Any petition and or complains 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.
“Any person who unlawfully uses, publish or cause to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.
“Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000.00 or both, ” the petition read.
Senator Na’Allah, in his lead debate, during the plenary, where he sought support for accelerated consideration of the bill, said:
“Our past has portrayed us as a society where by mere expedience of writing a frivolous petition against public officials, you can have their right abused by taking certain measures that practically took away their right of presumptions of innocence only to be found later that the petition, as strong as it appears, on the paper actually lacks merit.”
“This sometimes, lead to a lot of innocent and most times honest civil servants being taken away from the public service only to be replaced by the dishonest ones, which invariably lead to the draining of the public service of civil servants with the desired integrity to move this country forward simply on grounds of principles.
“As a nation with strong desire to move forward, this negative trend must be reversed, if only the desired objectives of the country,” he stressed. He added: “the bill which appears ‘sunset’ in its nature consists of four sections which in clear terms spelt out the punishment for frivolous petition, and what constitutes frivolous petition.
“The bill seeks to provide punishment for frivolous petitions by making sure that only credible and. Verifiable petitions are presented for public use. “The utility of the bill is to equally save the time for good governance and resources that go into investigating frivolus petitions.The bill would equally assist in shaping our negative thinking by elevating hard work over and above sychophancy and indolence,”he further explained.
“The question to ask is, whether having passed the Freedom of Information Act which gives unfettered access by the public information from government offices they would be right for this government to continue to waste valuable time and resources in investigating frivolous petitions from the same public and I am sure you would find no difficulty in saying no to the ugly situation,”he stressed, while soliciting support for its consideration.
As expected the Nigerian social media reacted with anger to the news of the bill which sets out to check social media activism. Responding to the reactions, the office of the senate president has issued a statement denying compliance in allegations that it aims to gag social media critiques.
Read the statement below:
“Clarification on false claim that Senate passed a bill proposing to jail social media users for two years. The bill being made reference to, is An Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Related Matters, which absolutely makes no mention of jailing social media users.
Senator Na’Allah’s bill seeks to make illegal, the common act of individuals sponsoring frivolous petitions to tarnish/blackmail public servants or political office holders for selfish purposes.
The bill also seeks to make it a requirement for petitioners to depose to an affidavit in court which will must be attached to any petition. Where such petition is discovered to be frivolous, or mischievous or the fact there in are false, the proposed bill makes it a case of perjury which is an offense under the law.
The Deputy Senate leader in his submission expressed concern that with such frivolous petitions, the right of an individual to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court, would have eroded such presumption of innocence as these petitions lead to media trials that hampers the rule of law.
In the developed societies and in particular, the US, if one files a petition with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other government agency, aimed at defaming someone, ruining their reputation or family and such petition is discovered to be false, such a person will be held liable and would pay dearly for it.
One can only imagine that if countries allowed dishonest elements to file petitions against their opponents without having to hold them accountable, this will amount to impunity.
Please find attached the lead debate to the said petition.
SA New Media
President of The Senate
This bill is just unbelievable. Instead of Senators to spend time making laws that will benefit the citizenry, they are busy debating on how to cripple the freedom of expression of NigeriansOn social media. Seriously SMH.
Moji Delano is a Lawyer turned Blogger, Entrepreneur, Digital Media Strategist/expert.
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