Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I won’t accept any anti-free speech law, Buhari says



President Muhammadu Buhari said his administration remained committed to the protection of free speech in keeping with democratic tradition. 

Buhari reiterated this yesterday while reacting to the public hostility towards the social media bill currently being debated by the senate. Presidential spokesperson Malam Garba Shehu said Buhari would not assent to any legislation that might be inconsistent with the constitution of the country. Shehu, in a statement, noted that Buhari had sworn to defend the constitution of Nigeria and would not support anything that is inconsistent with the constitution. 



The draft bill to “Prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith,” was proposed by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South), and it has passed second reading.The bill makes it illegal to start any type of petition without swearing to an affidavit that the content is true in a court of law.It also proposes up to two years in prison, or a fine of N2million, or both, for anyone posting an “abusive statement” via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other form of social media. Despite assurances by the lawmakers that the law is meant to protect Nigerians, the public insists that the draft bill would muzzle free speech.   

Buhari however said he “is not averse to lawful regulation, so long as that is done within the ambit of the constitution which he swore to uphold.” Shehu also quoted Buhari as saying that free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world.  He quoted the president as emphasizing that without free speech, elected representatives would not be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues. 

He said Buhari acknowledged that as a key component of democratic principles, people in democratic societies “are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might.”  The presidential aide said Buhari was fully aware of the public reservations about the proposed legislation. Shehu said that the president also, however, assured that “there is no cause for alarm because the senate is a democratic senate.”  
“The president won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria,” he said.In his reaction, the West Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Peter Nkanga said any law that would hamstring free speech is unacceptable and undemocratic. Any form of action by government to stifle free press is unacceptable and should be resisted as it remains the building blocks of successful democracy, he said.  In terms of regulation, Nkanga said, “if at all it becomes necessarily, it can only be done with the input and buy-in of stakeholders including from the media whose commitment will help to make it successful.”  

“At CPJ we know that culture and environment are part of what define how journalists should generally practice their trade in their respective climes,” he said. 
“We always advocate wide consultations before regulations are set forward not like the senate is trying to do now,” Nkanga said.  
“What is happening now did not have the input of relevant stakeholders,” he said. 
The media rights activist said though Buhari has assured that he would not stile free speech “but we need to be on the lookout because it is one thing to make promise and another to keep the promise.” 

On June 3, 2015, the CPJ wrote a reminder letter to the president on attacks on journalists and the need to take action on them “but nothing has been done about it,” he said. 
“In the past six months, there have been incidences of attack on journalists and government has not done anything about it,” he said.

Source: Daily Trust

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