When Yemi Adamolekun put up the Global Shapers Abuja Dialogue Series advertorial that advertised the interaction with Senator Ibn Na Allah, the Facilitator of the very controversial “Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill” which had gone through second reading in the Senate I knew I had to be there if for nothing to listen to the Senator who decided a Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill was what was most needed by Nigeria at this moment in its history where it was going through trying moments.
Myself, Ahmed Isa of Brekete Family, Aisha Yesufu of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, Mukhtar Dan Iya aka MrAyeDee, Ariyo Atoye, Karo Agono and Deji Adeyanju had led a Protest of citizens to the National Assembly to register their displeasure at such a bill which from all its look seemed aimed at denying citizens their freedom of speech.
The event itself was an invitation only one. I applied with Chime Asonye replying to my application personally and sending me details of the location of the dialogue.
This was one meeting I knew I had to personally attend and I hurriedly attended to all personal issues and made time to attend. I was not going to delegate for fear of loss in translation in communicating the assumed general opinion against this bill.
I arrived promptly with Atoye Ariyo at 5pm as instructed in the email we received. We had to wait for 1 hr before the “Distinguished Senator” sauntered in making light humorous commentary with no sense of remorse at keeping citizens waiting for an hour.
The meeting finally started with Jake Chukwu introducing the Senator and Chime Asonye as the moderator.
The moderator read a brief biography of the Senator and gave him the floor to explain the bill and why it was important. The Senator then proceeded by explaining his trajectory within the National Assembly stating that at 52 he had a fair assumption of his moral compass and went on to explain the necessity of the bill.
I was itching to go, to ask how anyone felt it was ok to curtail free speech..
At the end of the Senator’s address written questions were collected which were read to the Senator. To me the moderator was just wasting time by collecting written questions and asking the senator in his own rephrased version without the emotions to back the questions.
I still wrote my questions and handed them to him. I had to go meet Andy Madaki one of the Global Shapers whom I remember seeing during our first meetings at the Unity Fountain when we were planning the protest to National Assembly and then again at this Dialogue Series and asked if we were going to get the chance to ask the Senator one on one questions, Andy said there would be a session for this. That was all I wanted and the time soon came. People started asking questions as to what stage the bill was? If the bill was a recreation of decree 4? And whether it was a secret agenda of the President?
In his response the senator explained that at his age he believed he could speak and act based on his convictions and that the bill was an effort to cut the wastage resultant from frivolous petitions and that bill was erroneously called a social media bill ( Only God knows the discipline it took to sit there and listen to the condescending manner he spoke about those opposed to the bill).He went further to say that as a constitutional lawyer he was aware that the bill was not in conflict with the constitution in anyway and that even the NBA had not come out to find fault with his bill.
He also intimated us of his request to the Senate President for an extension of hearing to 2 weeks instead of the stipulated 1week given. He noted that he wanted tempers to cool down.(So he knows tempers are up and yet wants to go on with the bill?)
Finally the moderator did let me speak. I remained calm and focused. I introduced myself and proceeded to inform him that contrary to his assumption that 90% of people had not read what he had presented to the senate, we had not only read his proposed legislation but went further to point it’s inconsistency with Section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999 with Amendments. I also told him that we knew the name of bill and intentionally nicknamed it Social Media bill because that was what it was. I also mentioned the issue of him calling the organisers of the protest hired Criminals which he denied. Thank God we have a recording of his interview on NTA.
The Senator then narrated how much negativity he had recieved as a result of this bill. The emotions in the room was rising and I could see Chioma Chukwuka almost standing to tell me to simmer down, but there was one point however emotional I had to get across to the Senator. You are our employee and so you should do as we the citizens want you to do, I said to him.
Distinguished Senator,what are you doing about protecting our Bio-data being collected all over the place?
Should that not be a priority?
His response shocked me. He said all the placard carrying and protest amounts to nothing and that he would see that the bill is passed, stating that the Cyber Crime bill was far worse and today is a law.
The fact that several bodies including Serap, the National Guild of Editors had written strongly to question the sense in such a bill had no meaning to the Senator, the fact that the #NoToSocialMediaBill campaign had gotten over 15million contributions against the bill did not count.
For me, it was more of a confirmation that moving forward we must question the content and intent of those we send to make laws for us, as we now see them legislating exclusively for their preserve and interest instead of, for the interest of the citizens that voted them in.
The Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill is to me and many others for all intent and purpose is in itself a “Frivolous bill” and a waste of Precious National Assembly debate time. There is a lot more we deserve and expect from our distinguished Senators.
I will remain a Passionate and avid #NoToSocialMediaBill advocate.
Freedom of Speech to me is an essential ingredient to the survival of this our teenage democracy.
Anthony Ehilebo is lawyer, he is the Publisher of Breakingtimes and also a Co-Convener of #NoToSocialMediaBill campaign.