Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami
  • CJN: It will protect interest of all

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, Commissioner, Nigerian Law Reforms Commission (NLRC), Mr. Chibuike Okorie and civil society organisations yesterday rejected the Frivolous Petitions Bill 2015 which had been re-christened by the public as ‘Anti-social Media Bill.’

At a whole-day public hearing organised on the bill by Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in Abuja, legal practitioners in both private and public practice, media practitioners, the academia and a lot of stakeholders at the meeting collectively described the bill as unnecessary.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who was represented by Justice Clara Ogunbiyi was virtually left alone as the sole supporter of the bill.

The AGF, who was represented by an Assistant Director, Francis Oyong, insisted that passage of the bill would infringe on press freedom as well as freedom of expression.

He also argued that provisions of the bill would militate against quality investigation, observing that most Nigerians who are required by the bill to swear to an affidavit live in rural areas where they may not have access to courts. He also described the bill as a gross violation of African Charter on Human Rights.

“If this bill is enacted into law the way it was structured, it will lead to judicial condemnation. What the bill is seeking to regulate, is being regulated by the law of defamation.

“If the bill is passed, it will violate the African Charter of People’s and Human Rights. Even if the provisions of affidavit in the bill are removed, it will still not remedy the problem,” he said.

In the same vein, NLRC Commissioner, Okorie, distanced his agency from the bill, observing that its content had been adequately taken care of by some other laws of the federation. He did not mince words to describe the bill as unnecessary.

According to him, the provisions of the bill, if passed into law, would frustrate federal government’s current anti-corruption war, saying it would hinder internal investigations of fraud within ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.

Like most other speakers at the hearing, the publisher of Breaking Times, an on-line publication, Mr.Anthony Ehilebo, said no fewer than N15 million Nigerians had rejected passage of the bill immediately it was made public.
He asked the committee to consign the bill into the dust bill of history in accordance with the position of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who had recently declared it “dead on arrival.”

However, the CJN said the bill was not out to gag the media neither was it meant to usurp the power of other arms of government. Instead, he said the coming of the bill was necessary because it would address the problem of multiple anonymous petitions that is common in the country. He also said the bill would protect the interest of all.

He said: “The fact is, their freedom of expression in the constitution, it has to be within bond and not be at large. The bill is very laudable going by the fact that it uses the words ‘frivolous.’
“The bill is not out to curb or check excesses and recklessness of all arms of government. Its aim is to ensure that only facts are disseminated to the public.

It is not meant for vengeance but it is out to safeguard the rights and privileges in the constitution. It will serve the purpose of verifying the origin of a petition and provide the relationship between parties involved.”
However, chairman of the committee, Senator David Umoru, said Saraki’s position on the bill was personal and did not represent the opinion of the upper chamber.

While declaring the public hearing open, Saraki who was represented by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said both lawmakers and stakeholders in the democratic process had the responsibility to make laws that would hold people accountable for their actions through transparent and open process.

However, he added that the outcome of the bill would depend largely on opinions of stakeholders and the general public during the public hearing as he assured that the committee would be guided by the views canvassed at the public session.