The Senate has said its proposed bill, which prescribes as high as N5 million fine and seven years imprisonment for those who “falsely” criticize government officials and institutions, is misunderstood.
The bill titled: “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”, sponsored by Deputy Senate Leader, Sen. Bala Ibn Na’allah, has been widely criticized with many expressing the belief that it is a ploy by the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, to clampdown on freedom of speech, especially in the social media.
However, in a statement on Monday, the Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Sabi, said the bill was largely misunderstood by Nigerians.
“Some of the comments on the bill emanated from misconception and misunderstanding of the objective”, Mr. Sabi said.
The objective of the bill, according to Mr. Sabi, “is meant to protect all individuals and institutions, including journalists and social media users”.
“The senate is committed to freedom of speech and a fully inclusive and participatory democracy.
“The eighth Senate is totally committed to protecting the liberty of all Nigerians and the independence of the Senate and the legislative arm of government as we deepen our democratic journey”, he stressed.
The Senate spokesman noted that members of the public, including those “for or against the Anti-Frivolity bill or parts of the bill” would have the opportunity to shape its final outcome as “there is an elaborate process which the bill must undergo before it becomes a law”.
He explained further that, “The process of passing a bill is comprehensive and provide for inputs to be taken from all and sundry.
“The first stage is merely to read the short title of the bill. The second stage is purely to debate the general principles.
“The next stage is committal of the bill to appropriate committee or committees for further detailed legislative action where the details, intendment and clause by clause implications of the bill is dissected by the committee. This stage also involve public hearing in which members of the public, civil society, non-governmental organizations and all interested parties for or against the bill have the opportunity to shape and influence its content.
“The outcome from this committee stage is what will be finalized and then represented to the chamber for clause by clause consideration and approval or disapproval by the Senate. Thereafter, if the bill is approved, then the clean version of the bill is forwarded to the House of Representatives for concurrence or otherwise”.
According to Sen. Sabi, any grey areas that might emerge from the House of Representatives version would be resolved through the Conference Committee of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
“The anti-frivolity bill will go through the whole hog and there is no intention to make the process of passing this bill any different.
“Accordingly, the Senate wants to re-assure the public about this. So, all those who are either for or against this bill or its part and any other one have ample opportunities to reshape it.
“The Eighth Senate is conscious of its responsibility to the people and will not do anything that will stifle participation and inclusion.
“We will always ensure we pass laws which meets best practices across the world and indeed democratic scrutiny. Suggesting that the senate wants to pass a law not even practiced in China etc is being mischievous.
“This Senate is people-centred, pro-poor and participatory. We will always act in the best interest of the citizenry. In this regard, we are totally committed to performing our duties and discharging our responsibilities without let or hindrance.
“All those spreading hate campaigns as a result of the Anti-frivolity bill, hauling insults at and making derogatory comments on Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the institution of the Senate are advised to key into the elaborate legislative process that a bill must pass through before becoming law if they are interested in shaping the outcome of the bill.
“This is the right way to go and part of the change we all aspire for our democracy”.