Following the heavy criticisms which the social media bill sponsored by Bala has drawn, the Senate just revealed that the proposed bill, which aims at dishing out severe punishment on those who “falsely” chastise government officials and institutions, is misunderstood. The Senate said originally, that the bill must be passed into law despite all the criticisms it has drawn. But in a more recent disclosure, the senate has said that the public misinterpreted the essence of the bill.
Recall that the proposed bill is supposedly said to want to silence freedom of speech on social media if it is made a law and the public believe it is also deliberately targeted at critics of federal lawmakers and the National Assembly.
However on Monday, the Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Sabi stated that the bill was misunderstood by Nigerians. He said this while issuing a statement about the bill titled: “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”, sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’allah, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress from Kebbi State.
In the words of the Chairman Senate Committee and Public Affairs:
Some of the comments on the bill emanated from misconception and misunderstanding of the objective.
The objective of 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.
He further noted that members of the public, including those “for or against the Anti-Frivolity bill or parts of the bill” would have the chance to contribute to the final outcome as the bill will go through an elaborate process before it will be made a law including a public hearing that will allow the general public to support or decline the bill. He explained that,
The process of passing a bill is comprehensive and provides for inputs to be taken from all and sundry.
The fist 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.
He added that the differences 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.