As reactions continue to trail the Anti-Media Bill proposed by the All Progressives Congress senator and Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’allah, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Ekiti State, Mr. Owoseni Ajayi has called on the National Assembly not to pass the piece of legislation.
The draft Anti-Media Bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith”, specifically targets social and traditional media users, passed second reading in the Senate last week amid outcry from Nigerian youths, who have been the greatest beneficiaries of freedom of expression and sometimes anonymity that social media guarantees.
It proposes up to seven years in prison or N5 million fine for “anyone who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message” while anyone found guilty of disseminating via WhatsApp, or any other form of social media an “abusive statement” with intent to “set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law”, will be liable to pay a fine of N2 million or sent to prison for no more than two years upon conviction or both.
Mr. Ajayi insisted that the obnoxious Anti-Media Bill was a sad reminder of the now repealed Decree 4 that was used by the military regime of then General Muhammadu Buhari to gag the press between 1984 and 1985 the Sedition Law that the British Colonial Masters used against nationalists who fought for the independence of Nigeria.
The Attorney-General, who declared that holders of public offices must be answerable to the people at all times, added that; “those of us holding public offices must be mindful of the temptation of seeing ourselves as being above the people. We are not God that cannot be questioned. In fact, nothing should be private about us that the public must not know”.
The Commissioner for Justice, who made this position known in a statement issued in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital on Sunday, said the Ekiti State government was against the bill in its entirety, pointing out “that bill proposed by Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah is not different from Buhari’s Protection Against False Accusations Decree 4 of 1984, which was considered as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria”.
Mr. Owoseni stressed that Nigerians were not unmindful of the fact that the APC rode to power on the back of free press and credible electoral process that was allowed by the Peoples Democratic Government of Goodluck Jonathan, adding that “the APC as a party must be ready to accommodate even more than the media attacks it gave PDP when it was in the opposition”.
The Commissioner for Justice said; “Isn’t it funny that the same media, especially the social media that the APC used against the PDP has now become an enemy that the APC led federal government is desperate to suppress? What are they afraid of? “It is painful that anyone could bring such bill to the Senate, and even more painful that the bill was allowed to pass through the first reading.
“However, let those seeing the bill as a means of protecting themselves realise that they won’t be in power forever. They should therefore refrain themselves from acts capable of taking Nigeria back to those years of dictatorship that journalists were jailed indiscriminately and media houses shut for years. They should remember Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian newspapers”.
Mr. Owoseni warned the Senate to be mindful of the fact that the offences the proposed Anti-Media Bill seeks to criminalize already exist under Nigerian laws, including those on treason, defamation and libel.
“Lastly, let those supporting the obnoxious bill know that under a democratic government, there cannot be criminal libel or defamation. There can also not be a return of Decree 4 of 1984 and the Sedition Law of the Colonial days”, he added.