The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, expressed support for the media repression bill under Senate review, also known as “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters.” The draconian bill carries a two-year jail term with it and up to a N2 million fine.
The bill has been opposed by civil society groups and online activists arguing that it intended to gag media and free speech. It was proposed by Kebbi State Senator Ibn Na’Allah who has stated that he is unwavering in his support for the bill.
Mr. Na’Allah told Vanguard newspaper on December 11th that, “I sponsored the bill to sanitize information flow in the social media. The social media is a very valuable platform for dissemination of information and it has helped this country greatly but of recent we have seen some few ‘bad eggs’ who have turned it into a business venture.”
The public forum addressing concerns with the media repression bill included representatives from the Law Reform Council, the Ministry of Justice, the Nigerian Police, and elected National Assembly representatives. Senator Na’Allah was not in attendance during the forum, according to attendees speaking with SaharaReporters.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, who was represented at the forum by Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, publicly endorsed the bill arguing that privileges should be safeguarded against frivolous abuse.
Mr. Mohammed’s comments come at a time of intense public scrutiny of corruption in the judiciary. Judges and justices have been embroiled in scandal and accused of taking money to deliver specific judgments. High profile cases such as senior lawyer Rickey Tarfa bribing Justice Yunusa and the judgments in Akwa Ibom, Abia, and Rivers States have been widely condemned by social media users as being tainted by corruption.
Gbenga Sesan, a civil society activist and leading campaigner against the media repression bill, told our SaharaReporters correspondent that he was displeased that the Chief Justice endorsed the bill in such an enthusiastic manner.
“The Chief Justice should be the custodian of laws [in the country]” and it is inappropriate to endorse so strongly before the bill is even passed.
Mr. Sesan, who submitted a joint memo co-authored with six other civil society groups, stated that he did not feel as though civil society got as much representation during the forum as he was hoping. He did say that “I was not surprised at how many people [attending the forum] spoke against the bill.”
Yemi Adamolekun, from Enough is Enough Nigeria, also told our correspondent that both the Chief Justice and a letter from the Inspector General of the Police spoke in support of the media repression bill.
Following the public forum, the Senate is expected to discuss the bill and either make revisions or vote on it.