As Minister of Justice, stakeholders reject bill at Senate public hearing
By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—CHIEF Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, yesterday, threw his weight behind the proposed frivolous petition bill 2015, saying when finally passed into law, it would help protect everyone in the country.
The CJN, who urged all Nigerians to support the bill, said it was not designed to gag the media or infringe on the rights and privileges of Nigerians, adding that the bill would bring the constitutional provision of freedom of opinion within bounds and not at large.
Speaking yesterday at a one- day public hearing organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Frivolous Petitions Bill, 2015, the Chief Justice of Nigeria noted that the reason behind the proposed bill was very laudable and auspicious.
He said: “This is because by the very use of the word frivolous, it connotes unseriousness, ill-motivation and suggestive of bad faith which is not within the contemplation of the constitutional provision of freedom of expression.
“The measure to curb the excesses is, however, not meant to serve the purpose of denial of access to information, nor is it meant to do away with checks on the executive, legislative and judicial recklessness as well as accountability of stewardship in all facets of public office.
“The aim of the bill should be for the purpose of ensuring that whatever information is disseminated to the public, must come from a legitimate, genuine and a known source which is identifiable and meant to safeguard the best interest of the general public for purpose of good administration and governance.
‘’In other words, it is to check against information given in bad faith, with the intention to serve ulterior motives. I wish to add quickly that the most difficult war to fight is where it is waged against a faceless opponent.”
Represented by a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Justice Mohammed said the bill when passed, would saveguard the rights and privileges provided under the constitution against all forms of frivolous abuse for whatever reason and from wherever direction whatsoever.
He said: “For purpose of ensuring that only genuine and profitable complaints/petitions are lodged against individuals, corporate entities and the government. It will serve the purpose of verifying the origin, and authenticity of the complaint and the complainant; serve to bring out the merits or demerits of the petition; serve to reveal the relationship of the parties and also the duration of association.
‘’It spells out the benefit and what interest are to derive from the petition. It serves as a caveat/notice to the 3rd party users of information.”
The CJN, who noted that frivolous petitions had been the order of the day across board in all tiers of government, said although freedom of speech and, freedom of expression all exist within its ambit of the constitution as laudable as it might seem, stressed, however, that there must be limits to adhere to them, especially with the exuberant, frivolous and unguarded write-ups in the print media, social media platform, such as Facebook and Twitter.
According to him, the right to freedom in Nigeria has been overlooked, while many established democracies across the world have enacted freedom of information regime.
“Before now, Nigerians regarded freedom of information as a luxury which was only practicable in the Western world. Citizens must rely on confirmed reports. In a country where freedom of information act is in operation, anyone can make a request for information.” he said.
It will be recalled that since the bill was presented before the Senate by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, the bill has attracted a lot of opposition and angst from Nigerians.
Stakeholders reject bill
Besides the CJN who backed the controversial bill, stakeholders at the public hearing, including legal practitioners in private and public practice, media practitioners, civil society groups and the academia, were unanimous in rejecting the bill, describing it as an act to frustrate the current anti-corruption war in the country.
In his presentation, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who disagreed with the Chief Justice of Nigeria by rejecting the bill, said the bill was not qualified to be used in a democratically justified society, explaining that “Section 39 of Nigerian Constitution and section 157 of Nigeria Communication Act which is closer to the bill is the one regulating the telephone, sound among others.
‘’So those issues sort to be checked by this bill have been taken care of,’’ the AGF said.
Represented by Assistant Director Legal Drafting Department, Ministry of Justice, Patrick Etta Oyong, the minister noted that what the bill sought to prohibit was being regulated by the law of defamation in 375 section of the Criminal Code.
Hen said: “If as the law stands, if the penalty in the criminal code there are passed then there may be need for an amendment rather than pass the bill.”