Law News
Frivolous law to stop frivolous petitions

The bill sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, titled: “An Act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith”; should take the gold prize for the most frivolous bill since 1999. Considering that I knew Senator Na’Allah back in the day as a senior colleague when he practised law, I was miffed to watch him on prime time television last week proffering preposterous arguments to support his extremely frivolous bill. As if to add salt to my injury, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, representing my constituency, stood up to lend his weight to that anti-democratic bill.

Unfortunately, Senator Ekweremadu too, is a lawyer. This jejune bill, as reported by this newspaper, last Friday, “recommends jail terms ranging from a mandatory six months to up to two years or fines of between N200,000 and N4 million for petitions written or published through any medium of whatever description, against public or private individuals without a sworn affidavit in a Federal or State High Court”. The whole essence of this frivolous bill is to make it unattractive for private persons with information on the rampant sleaze in our public service, to report such public officials to the law, or at least expose them to public ridicule and odium.

The learned counsel in the Senate chambers, and their colleagues, instead of pushing for the enactment of the Whistle Blowers Act, and the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act, to aid transparency in public service, decided to wear the garb of anti-democratic elements, to criminalise what can at worst, be a libel. In their unreasonable haste to protect themselves and their colleagues in high offices from public scrutiny, they forgot that there is a constitutional guarantee of the fundamental right to Freedom of Expression and the Press, clearly, manifestly, unobtrusively, provided for in Section 39 of the 1999 constitution.

In case the luxury of office has affected the learned counsels’ interest in constitutionalism, let me quote the relevant provisions of Section 39, to help the Deputy Senate Leader and his supporters appreciate that they are working against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which they swore to uphold. Section 39(1) provides: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. The requirement of an affidavit on oath, by some misguided senators, before a citizen can impart information, as sought by the dubious bill, is therefore non-sequitur.

To ensure that constitutional provisions remain sacrosanct and are not dealt a sleight of hand by misguided legislators, Section 1(3) of the constitution provides: “If any 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”. I hope this attempt to gag the press, or to further discourage Nigerians from reporting on our rapacious and thieving elites, will fail. If perchance this bill becomes a law, I have no doubt the courts will strike it down.

Quelling unlawful assembly unlawfully

As feared, the brazen match by some youths for a new Biafra, championed by a nascent group called the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and a faction of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), turned bloody penultimate weekend. According to reports, two police men, five members of the group and two other persons lost their lives in the fracas, following efforts by law enforcement agencies to dislodge the group from barricading the Onitsha end of the River Niger Bridge.

Of note, while Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution provides: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons….”; Section 45(1) warns: “Nothing in Sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”. The forceful insistence of the champions of a new Biafra, that Onitsha town must be shut down until the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is released, in the least, amounts to riotous assembly. But the security agencies, acting within the law, can only use reasonable force to disperse the protesters. To find out what happened in Onitsha, and in the long term interest of Nigeria’s peaceful co-existence, I urge the federal government to set up a public enquiry over the incident and the unabated protests.

As I have argued previously here, the absence of critical infrastructure, general development and opportunities in the southeast, as in many other parts of Nigeria; more so, as our leaders, engage in licentious orgy of criminal aggrandisement, is a time bomb. But a violent agitation for a new Biafra, I dare say, will not solve the problems.

Click here to read from source.

You must be logged in to post a comment.