Society: Nigeria urged to withdraw 'frivolous petition' bill

Dakar, Senegal (PANA) – The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has urged Nigeria to withdraw the 'Frivolous Petitions Bill', saying it finds moves by the country to introduce a new repressive law as disturbing.

In a statement made available to PANA in Dakar on Friday, MFWA said that Senator for Kebbi South, Bala Ibn Na’Allah sponsored the "frivolous Petitions Bill which seeks to restrict freedom of expression and reverse all gains Nigeria made in freedom of expression and human rights.

"The MFWA therefore fails to understand what the Nigerian Senate seeks to achieve with one more repressive law. We wish to remind the Senate that per the African Court of Human and People’s Rights judgment in December 2014, imprisonment for defamation violates freedom of expression.

"The Senate should therefore withdraw the Frivolous Petitions Bill and, as a matter of urgency, initiate processes to decriminalise speech offences in Nigeria by repealing the many criminal defamation laws,'' the statement added.

According to the sub-regional rights body the bill has four sections which, among other things, demands that persons seeking to petition state authorities on the conduct of another person must swear an affidavit.

Persons who publish petitions not supported by an affidavit “shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to imprisonment for six months without the option of a fine".

Any person who uses or acts on such a petition will also be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to a fine of a two-year prison term or N2,000,000 (approximately US$10,000) or both.

The statement also touched on another section of the bill which spells out heavy fine or two-year imprisonment against the media if found guilty of an offence and upon conviction for circumventing the law and making any allegation or publish statement and petition.

"The MFWA finds this bill as an attempt to repress the Nigerian media and prevent civil society and citizens from holding public officials accountable.

"Currently, Nigeria leads in press freedom violations in West Africa. Several journalists and media organisations in the country have been attacked this year and the perpetrators of these violations are yet to be punished.

''Impunity is thriving as both state and non-state actors violate the rights of journalists and the media. At a time where the safety of Nigerian journalists has become critical, the MFWA is disappointed that the Senate seeks to further worsen the situation," the statement added.

The rights body also expressed deep concern that the bill seekd to restrict the digital rights of Nigerians.

It said that at a time when the youth were being encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities the internet offered, Nigeria should be creating an enabling environment for social media rather than seeking to restrict it.
-0- PANA MLJ/MA 11Dec2015

11 december 2015 12:55:53

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