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“SOCIAL MEDIA BILL” – AN ACT IN NULLITY

16 Dec

The proposed social media bill has caused uproar in different segments of the nation. Activists and tech professionals have expressed their disgust at the bill which they regard as criminal and barbaric. To show the staunched rejection of the bill, Nigerians took to twitter using the #NoToSocialMediaBill hashtag.
The bill is being sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and it attempt to inter alia mandate that all petitioners, before making their petitions, get an affidavit from a court of law. Interestingly, the bill has passed the second reading and is left with just one stage before being forwarded to the president for assent.
The reaction of the presidency is quite relieving and comforting in this showdown. President Buhari has shown once again that he is law abiding and well aware of the fundamental rights of the citizen. He has declined any connection to the draft bill and assured Nigerians that the bill, if passed, will never get his assent. This is as reported by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, he said that “the President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria”.
Unfortunately, This comforting news may not be comforting on the long run. The bill even without the assent of the President can still be passed to law. According to Section 58(5) of the 1999 constitution,”Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required”. This provision gives the legislature the power to turn the bill into law even without the president’s approval. Hence, it seems to me that the President might not be all that is needed to be on the people’s side to win this war.
Luckily, there is one entity that is bigger than the president, the National Assembly, and even the citizen as a whole. The constitution – our grundnorm. Interestingly, whoever this document supports wins every battle he engages in within the realm especially when such battle is connected to the provisions of chapter four of the document.
A survey of this document is thus important at this moment. A task that this legal piece is orchestrated to embark on.
Pursuant to Section 39(1) of the 1999 constitution, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. This provision gives every person the right to “speak and hear” information. The necessary words of this section in this situation we found ourselves are ” without interference”. Everyone is free “to speak and to hear” without interference.
The phrase “without interference” has received judicial clarification in the case of Tony Momoh v. The senate to mean that nobody can be compelled to reveal the information (and its source) which he holds. In that case, Mr Tony Momoh, the editor of the Daily Times p published an article about senators lobbying for contracts from the executives. He was then summoned by the Senate Committee of Inquiry to disclose the source of his information. The court held that disclosure of his source will be a violation of his freedom of expression and that except the need for the source overrides this right, he cannot be compelled to disclosed.
Also, in the case of Oyegbami v. A.G. Federation, the court posited that “no person, be he an editor, reporter, or publisher of a newspaper can be compelled to disclose his source of information for any matter published by that person and non-disclosure cannot be contempt of court”.
From the foregoing, it has been established that the draft bill negates the dictate of section 39 and therefore inconsistent with the constitution.
The constitution is the most powerful legal document and pursuant to section 1(3) of the constitution,”If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”
The passage of this bill is therefore an act in nullity and the National Assembly is beckoned to strick it out.
LAWAL SODIQ ABIOLA

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Opinion

 

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