Senate proposes 2-year jail term for social media critics

Although the bill gives room for an option of fine of N4 million.

 

Social Media abusers may face two years in jail if a bill seeking the punishment is passed into law.

The bill, which passed second reading in the senate on Tuesday, Dec. 1, seeks a two-year sentence for anyone who makes allegation or publishes any statement or petition in the newspaper, radio or medium of whatever description against another person, institutions of government or any public office holder.

It also recommended that anybody or group who sends any false text message or post false message on the social media against another person shall face the punishment after being convicted by the court of law.

Although the bill gives room for an option of fine of N4 million for persons convicted of false newspaper, radio and television statements and N2 million for offenders of false phone text messages or messages on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or  WhatsApp.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, was tagged: “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”

The bill read: “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 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 an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.

“Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be an 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 duly 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.

“Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.

“Any person who unlawfully uses, publish or cause to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.

“Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000.00 or both".

While soliciting support for the bill's passage to be speedy, Na’Allah said, “Our past has portrayed us as a society where by mere expedience of writing a frivolous petition against public officials, you can have their right abused by taking certain measures that practically took away their right of presumptions of innocence only to be found later that the petition, as strong as it appears, on the paper actually lacks merit.”

“This sometimes, lead to a lot of innocent and most times honest civil servants being taken away from the public service only to be replaced by the dishonest ones, which invariably lead to the draining of the public service of civil servants with the desired integrity to move this country forward simply on grounds of principles.

“As a nation with strong desire to move forward, this negative trend must be reversed, if only the desired objectives of the country,” he stressed. He added: “the bill which appears ‘sunset’ in its nature consists of four sections which in clear terms spelt out the punishment for frivolous petition, and what constitutes frivolous petition."

However, last week, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had assured that the Muhammadu Buhari administration would not clampdown on social media userswith regards to freedom of speech, but warned that influencers of the platform must be careful with the kinds of statements they put out for the sake of national unity and security.

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