Nigeria: Senate Withdraws Frivolous Petitions Bill

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the withdrawal of the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition) Bill that sought to further restrict freedom of expression in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Senate on May 17, 2016, withdrew and suspended all considerations of the controversial Bill following recommendations by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters of the Senate. The Committee rightly noted that passing the Bill will thwart efforts being made by government in fighting corruption.

According to news reports, Chairman of the Committee, Senator David Umaru, “noted that most of the provisions of the Bill had already been covered by other extant laws of the federation and could not be duplicated.”

The MFWA’s partner organisation in Nigeria, the International Press Centre (IPC) has said the passage of the Bill “would have caused more harm than good.”

In a statement released on May 18, 2016, the Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said it was “heartwarming that the Senators finally saw reason that a law that seeks to curtail freedom of expression and media freedom is completely antithetical to democratic aspirations and should have no place in any democracy worth the name.”

The Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions) Bill was introduced into the Nigerian Senate in December 2015. The Bill, sought to restrict freedom of expression and reverse gains Nigeria has made in freedom of expression and human rights. Many individuals and Civil Society Organisations including the MFWA called on the Senate to withdraw the bill as it would have restricted freedom of expression and digital rights of Nigerians.

The Bill had four sections which, among other things, demanded that persons seeking to petition state authorities on the conduct of another person must swear an affidavit. Persons who published petitions not supported by an affidavit would have been deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, liable to a six month imprisonment term without the option of a fine.

We congratulate the Senate for withdrawing the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions) Bill and urge it to also consider repealing other repressive laws such as Sections 373, 375 and 376 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code Act as well as the Defamatory and Offensive Publications Act which all criminalise defamation.

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