BY AMOS DUNIA, ABUJA – A civil society organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned the United Nations against the Nigerian Senate to as a matter of urgency withdraw the bill which aims to undermine constitutionally and internationally recognized media freedom in the country.
In the petition which was addressed to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression at the UN, Mr. David Kaye, SERAP urged him to his use your good offices and position to “publicly press the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the entire leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to immediately withdraw the bill considered obnoxious.
The CSO noted that in spite of a subsisting court case and strong opposition to it, the Senate went ahead and passed the bill for second.
In a petition dated July 27, 2018 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Timothy Adewale, the organization said, “criminalising media freedom would not only violate the rights of journalists and media practitioners to carry out their legitimate work, but would undermine the ability of Nigerians and others in the country to be informed on events of critical importance and participate in the governance process.
Adewale also said the bill would escalate the growing threats and attacks on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom and have a powerful chilling effect across the country.
In his words; “The proposed bill by the Senate is a major threat to media independence and diversity in the country and shows lack of understanding of the essential role of independent media in the sustainability of the country’s democratic dispensation.
“SERAP believes that a free and independent media would facilitate public participation, governmental accountability and improve democratic institutions.”
The petition which was copied Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, read in part: “The bill by the Senate also stems in part from increasingly irresponsible framing of journalists as ‘enemies’ by political leaders and aims at stifling public debate of issues such as allegations of corruption in the Senate and investigative reporting in the public interest.
“The bill would also restrict the free flow of information and ideas, which is one of the most powerful ways of combating corruption and holding public officials including lawmakers accountable.”
Adewale noted that despite strong opposition from media practitioners to the bill, the Senate of Nigeria is pushing hard to accelerate the passage of the obnoxious bill, which has already passed the second reading.
He further said that SERAP is concerned that if passed into law, the bill would contravene Nigeria’s international legal obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
According to him; “The bill reproduced some of the most repressive provisions of similar obvious laws known as the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993 and the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984. The then military government used Decree No 4 to jail journalists.
“The bill seeks to establish the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers. Under the bill, any person who is not a “registered journalist,” but who practices as one or uses any description showing to be one, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a prison sentence or a fine or both.”
SERAP, therefore, requested the Special Rapporteur to publicly express concerns about the proposed bill and insist that the Senate of Nigeria should immediately withdraw the bill
It also wants the UN to publicly press the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to consistently act to meet Nigeria’s constitutional and international human rights obligations including those requiring all authorities to take steps to ensure that independent media can continue to play a central role in the country
SERAP urge the Senate to use their legislative powers to promote media freedom, media independence and diversity and to allow the right to freedom of expression and media freedom without fear of criminal prosecution, and should not contemplate impermissible restrictions to the constitutionally and internationally recognized freedoms
The organisation also asked the Senate to show commitment to the fundamental right of all to free and unhindered access to information and should as well take steps to end all initiatives to use flawed legislation to restrict media freedom ahead of the 2019 general elections