Thursday, December 10, 2015


A cross section of lawyers in the FCT have condemned the proposed Social Media Bill by the Senate, saying that it is “repressive and unconstitutional’’. Speaking on the bill, which had passed its second reading in the Senate, the legal practitioners said on Thursday that they would take judicial measures to ensure that it did not see the light of the day.

A lawyer, Mr John Shagba, told the newsmen that the bill as presented by Sen. Bala Na’Allah “is a deliberate attempt to stifle freedom of speech.’’ “There is no basis for what the National Assembly is trying to do. “The Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of speech for everyone, and everyone has a right to seek redress for false allegations, and perpetrators may also be prosecuted. “So, there is no justification whatsoever for the Nigerian senate to further criminalise certain parts of the media through this law,’’ he said.

Mr Ben Nnaji, another legal practitioner said that the National Assembly erred in the proposed bill, which might result in clamping down the media, stressing that “it is anti-masses and unacceptable’’. Nnaji described the proposed law as “déjà-vu’’; equating it with the Decree 4 promulgated during the Gen. Mohammadu Buhari Military regime, which was widely seen as the most repressive and the most dreaded press law enacted in Nigeria.

 “This law reminds us of the dark days of Buhari’s first coming where there was total clampdown on the media. “The senators are saying that because people are using social media to spread rumour and propaganda, but this is not enough excuse, because there is already a law of libel whereby you can sue anyone who carries unsubstantiated story about you.

 “I think it is a big shame that in this age, some people are talking about gagging the social media,’’ he said. Speaking in same vein, another lawyer, Victor Okwudiri said that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, also provides limitations.

 “There are constitutional restrictions which are provided to check the exercise of the freedom of expression and some of those restrictions are found in Section 39 and also in section 45 of the Constitution.’’ Okwudiri noted that if the proposed bill was not handled carefully, it could make nonsense of the democratic dividends that the people had been enjoying in the past couple of years.

He likened the bill to a tanker carrying petroleum products saying, “it is highly combustible even though it is meant for human convenience; it can also wipe out humanity if not handled carefully. “If it is not handled with care, it could be an infringement to the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, and the Section 1 (3) of the constitution is the supreme law of the land. “Any law in contradiction with the constitution shall be void,’’ he said.

Okwudiri said that the bill was more or less a surplus, because without it, people already have the right to sue for defamation, if anyone or the media writes anything malicious against them. He said that there was also the law of sedition which seeks to restrict the extent to which people could talk against or incite people against the government.

The lawyer said that the requirement for swearing of affidavit before a publication was a clear affront on the right to freedom of expression and should be kicked against. According to him, “the democracy we enjoy today is won on the platform of freedom of expression.’’

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