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Nigeria: Senate Withdraws Anti-Social Media Bill

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Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
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The Senate on Tuesday withdrew the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition, etc) Bill 2015 and suspended further consideration on it.

The decision to withdraw the Bill followed the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters which recommended its withdrawal.

In the report, the committee said that although the bill was innovative, its passage in the form it was presented would hinder the anti-corruption war which was a focal point of the present administration.

The committee Chairman, Sen. David Umaru, had said that most of the provisions of the Bill had already been covered by other extant laws of the Federation and could not be duplicated.

“Some of our extant Acts, such as the Penal Code, the Criminal Code, the Cybercrime Act, etc’ have sufficient provisions to address the issues that the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition, etc) Bill 2015, seeks to address.

“Even though the Bill has a tacit implication of discouraging frivolous and malicious petitions, its passage in this current form will do more harm than good.

“This Bill will conflict with some provisions in some of our extant Acts, which make provisions for whistle blowers protection; passing this bill will expose them to more dangers and threats to life.

“What we need to do now as legislators is to amend and update some of our extant Acts to accommodate emerging global trends rather than having a new law,” he said.

According to Umaru, other findings by the committee which informed its recommendation were that the bill will make life difficult for Nigerians who lived far away from High Courts.

He added that other forms of communication such as text messages, tweets, whatsapps which the Bill sought to police were already being regulated by the Nigerian Communication Act of 2003.

He added that the purpose of the Bill was closely related to the offence of defamation which was also already covered by law.

The committee, therefore, recommended that the Senate “do withdraw the bill for an Act to prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other matters connected therewith”.

Other senators who made comments threw their weight behind the bill’s withdrawal, saying that it was anti-people. Sen. Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) said that the bill would impugn on the information gathering of the Police adding that it was also against the anti corruption war of this administration.

He said that he was one of the sponsors of the Freedom of Information Act and could not support a bill that was against the tenets of that Act.

Sen. Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central) admonished people in position of authority to be more tolerant of critics from Nigerians using whatever social media platform they deemed fit.

He said that there was an over overwhelming opposition to the bill and as such it was pertinent that the bill be dropped in the interest of Nigerians and democracy.

However, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Minority Leader of the senate, while supporting the withdrawal of the bill, said that he still considered the aspect that dealt with character assassination as important.

However, the Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekwerenmadu who presided over plenary said that the withdrawal of the bill had demonstrated the beauty of the Senate and the National Assembly.

He said that the bill’s withdrawal had shown that not every bill that came to the Senate is passed as the senate was only committed to passing bills that would positively affect Nigerians.

“We cannot continue to duplicate our laws.

“Nigerians must give us the benefit of the doubt to debate bill, not every bill debated would be passed.

“We shall never be intimidated by anyone, all we owe our people is consultation before final passage.

“The public must also know that not every bill that comes here woud translate to passage,” he said.

The Bill was passed for first reading on Nov. 24, 2015 and passed for second reading on Dec. 2, 2015 amid agitations by Nigerians.

Media and civil society organisations protested against the bill, tagging it “Anti-Social Media Bill”

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