President Muhammadu Buhari has stated that he would not assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of the country, But “he is not averse to lawful regulation, so long as that is done within the ambit of the constitution, which he swore to uphold”.
The President issued a statement through his senior special adviser on media and publicity, Mallam Shehu Garba, in reaction to public hostility towards the social media bill being debated by the Senate stated: “President Buhari is fully aware of public reservations about the proposed legislation, but assured that there is no cause for alarm “because the Senate is a democratic institution”.
“The President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria.”
“The president said free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. He explained that without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues”
“But he is not averse to lawful regulation, so long as that is done within the ambit of the constitution, which he swore to uphold.
“As a key component of democratic principles, the president acknowledges that people in democratic societies are so emotionally attached to free speech and they would defend it with all their might,” Shehu added.
The controversial bill, sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, if passed into law, would makes it an offence for anybody to malign the integrity of any person, group of persons or an institution of government through publication of any false statement, petition or complain in any medium, be it the traditional media or social media.
The bill provides for N2m or N4m fine or six years imprisonment for offenders. Section 4 of the bill states: “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media, post any abusive statement, knowing same to be false, with intent to set the public against any person and/ or group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2m or both such fine and imprisonment.
Section 3 of the bill also reads: “Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, institutions of government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N4m.
The bill further seeks to make it unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a dully sworn affidavit in the High Court of a State or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.
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