The Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) has called on the Senate not to deny Nigerians of their universally-recognised right to freedom of expression.
In a statement in Lagos on Sunday by its Publicity Secretary, Olumide Iyanda, the Guild said the draft bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith,” which passed Second Reading in the Senate last week, poses a threat to the freedom of expression and obligation of the media as enshrined the Nigerian Constitution.
It noted that the bill proposes up to two years in prison or a fine of N2 million or both for anyone who posts an “abusive statement” via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp,or any other form of social media.
The bill also proposes varying penalties for false publications by print, radio and TV outlets.
GOCOP said on the proposed bill: “We wish to call the attention of the Senate to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
“Nigeria is also a signatory to other international statutes like the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Corruption, among others.”
The Guild expressed concern that given the inadequate media and internet penetration in the country, the Senate will lend itself to any move to discourage further growth.
It said: “As other countries adopt more generous and dynamic approach to the protection of free speech to allow citizens access to information without fear of intimidation, the National Assembly should not shackle the very media for which our present democracy owes it survival.
“Having benefitted from a vibrant media, it is worrisome that the lawmakers have turned around to debate a law which seeks to punish users of online media platforms.”
GOCOP, therefore, called on the lawmakers to desist from any action that will create fear among media practitioners, online activists and whistleblowers who may become likely targets if the bill becomes law.
“While we continuously campaign for responsible, objective and transparent practice among media practitioners and social media users across platforms, members of the Senate should not restrain access to information to protect politicians and other high ranking individuals who do not want to be held accountable for their actions,” GOCOP said.
Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has demanded, unconditionally, that the Senate suspends all proceedings with respect to a proposed Bill, “FRIVOLOUS PETITIONS (PROHIBITIONS ETC) BILL, 2015.”
A statement by the President, GarbaDeen Muhammad, reads: “The broad objective of this curiously accelerated Bill is to outlaw the freedom of expression of all Nigerian citizens and freedom of speech of all media organizations operating in print, electronic and on-line platforms in Nigeria and beyond. Appallingly, the Bill has also included as its target very personal and private means of communication such as SMS or text messages and WhatsApp, among others.
“The freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in section 22 and 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution respectively. Therefore, to enact any kind of law under any guise that will contradict these fundamental provisions is to deliberately seek to undermine the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We are, therefore, concerned that a group of persons elected by Nigerians to ensure that their rights, privileges and interests are protected, should gleefully misuse the mandate given to them to the detriment of the same people that elected them.
“As other concerned individuals and groups have pointed out, the Senate should note that there are already existing laws in our Constitution that can accommodate all the concerns, real or imagined, that the proposed Bill is expected to address. These laws include the Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015, the Libel law etc.
“In view of this and the glaring danger posed by the proposed Bill, the NGE is strongly advising the Senate to drop all proceedings on the proposed Bill and turn its attention instead to critical areas in need of urgent intervention.
“While believing that members of the Senate have a right both individually and collectively to express their concerns about the abuse of the cyberspace by unscrupulous people and organizations, we advise them to consolidate or strengthen the existing laws and enforce implementation.
“We call on all Nigerians that are justifiably peeved by the very consideration of enacting such obnoxious law to remain calm and express their opposition through lawful means.
“However, we frown at on-line fraudsters who take advantage of the vulnerable cyber space to carry out cyber bullying, stealing, stalking and all manner of cybercrimes.
In a related development, Ekiti State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Owoseni Ajayi, expressed concern over the Anti-Media Bill proposed by the All
Progressives Congress (APC) Senator, Bala Ibn Na’allah, saying; the National Assembly must not allow itself to be used to bring back Decree 4 that was used against the press between 1984 and 1985 that President Mohammadu Buhari was military Head of State and the Sedition Law that the British Colonial Masters used against our fathers, who
fought for the independence of Nigeria.
The Attorney-General, who declared that holders of public offices must be answerable to the people at all times, added that; “those of us holding public offices must be mindful of the temptation of seeing ourselves as being above the people. We are not God that cannot be questioned. In fact, nothing should be private about us that the
public must not know.”
In a statement in Ado-Ekiti on Sunday, Ajayi, who said the Ekiti State government was against the bill in its entirety, noted that; “that bill proposed by Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah is not different from Buhari’s Protection Against False Accusations Decree 4 of 1984, which was considered as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria.”
He said Nigerians were not unmindful of the fact that the APC rode to power on the back of free press and credible electoral process that was allowed by the Peoples Democratic Government of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, adding that; “the APC as a party must be ready to accommodate even more than the media attacks it gave PDP when it was in the opposition.”
The Commissioner for Justice said: “Isn’t it funny that the same media, especially the social media that the APC used against the PDP has now become an enemy that the APC led federal government is desperate to suppress? What are they afraid of?
“It is painful that anyone could bring such bill to the Senate, and even more painful that the bill was allowed to pass through the first reading.
“However, let those seeing the bill as a means of protecting themselves realise that they won’t be in power forever. They should therefore refrain themselves from acts capable of taking Nigeria back to those years of dictatorship that journalists were jailed indiscriminately and media houses shut for years. They should remember Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian newspapers.
“Most importantly, the Senate should be mindful of the fact that the offences the proposed bill seeks to criminalise already exist under Nigerian laws, including those on treason, defamation and libel.
“Lastly, let those supporting the obnoxious bill know that under a democratic government, there cannot be criminal libel or defamation. There can also not be a return of Decree 4 of 1984 and the Sedition Law of the Colonial days.”