Is the end looming for freedom of speech on social media?
A bill seeking a two-year jail term or N4,000,000 fine- for any person who publishes any statement or petition in the newspaper against another person, institutions of government or any public office holder- passed through second reading in the Senate on Tuesday, December 1.
The bill also requested that anybody or group that sends any untrue text message or posts false messages on social media against another person, should be jailed for a term of 2 years after conviction by a court of law.
The bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith” was sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah (APC) of Kebbi South.
The bill seeks to force petitioners to present sworn affidavits before laying petitions.
“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 stated.
On social media messages the bill stated: “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 which seemingly tethers on the edge of abusing the fundamental human right to freedom of speech continues: “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.
“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, “
Citing the reason for sponsoring the bill Senator Na’Allah says: “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.”
The Senator closed his soliciting for support with “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.”
It remains to see what would be made of the bill by the Senate.
Passing this bill would mean no more #IWasInMyHouseAndTrailerCameToJamMe without dire consequences.