A Federal High Court in Lagos has directed that the National Assembly be “put on notice” before the court would consider an application seeking to restrain both the Senate and House of Representatives from passing the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition, Etc) Bill, otherwise known as the Anti-Social Media Bill.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun-Ishola gave the directive while declining to grant a motion exparte brought by three non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Enough is Enough Nigeria (EIE); Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the proposed Law.
Mr. Olumide Babalola, lawyer to the NGOs, had brought the motion on March 23, asking the court to issue an interim injunction to restrain the National Assembly from taking further steps at deliberating on and/or reading the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition etc.) Bill 2015 for the purpose of passing it into law pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit pending before the court.
The organisations also sought an interim order of the court directing the parties in the suit to maintain the status quo pending the hearing and determination of the suit and to refrain from all acts that would undermine the adjudicatory powers of the court over the subject matter of the suit pending the hearing and resolution of the suit.
Observing that the suit is a very crucial one, Justice Olatoregun-Ishola said the Senate and House of Representatives ought to be in the know. She, however, advised Mr. Babalola not to hesitate to approach the Court if there is any adverse act by the National Assembly on the matter during the Easter vacation.
The respondents in the suit filed on March 21 by Mr. Babalola on behalf of the NGO are the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the National Assembly, Senator Abdulfatai Buhari, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Communications Technology and Cybercrime; Senator David Umaru, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary; Senator Samuel Anyanwu,Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges; Senator Bala Na’Allah, the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate and sponsor of the Bill; and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
In the substantive suit, the NGOs are seeking:
· A declaration that the first seven Respondents’ legislative reading and attempt to pass the Frivolous Petitions Bill into Law is illegal and unconstitutional as it violates their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and the press, and the right to privacy of citizens, their homes, their correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications as guaranteed by Sections 37 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004;
· A declaration that the first seven Respondents’ legislative reading and attempt to pass the Bill into Law is illegal and unconstitutional as it is likely to violate their rights to freedom of expression and the press and the right to privacy of citizens, their homes, their correspondences, telephone conversations guaranteed by sections 37, 39 and 46 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Article 9 of the African Charter;
·A declaration that the first seven Respondents’ deliberations, committee meetings, public hearings of the Bill with the aim of passing it into Law is illegal and unconstitutional as it is likely to violate their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and the press;
· A perpetual injunction restraining all the respondents, their agents, officers and/or representatives from further considerations giving effect to and/or passing the Bill into Law as it violates extant provisions of Sections 37 and 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter; and
· A perpetual injunction restraining the first seven Respondents , their agents, officers and/or representatives from further deliberating, meeting and/or reading the Bill with the aim of passing it into Law.
The NGOs are contending that the provisions of the Bill are not justifiable in a democratic setting and would further deepen corruption in Nigeria as it seeks to gag the press and whistleblowers who report untoward practices within private and public circles.
They are also claiming that the Bill would hamper the investigation and prosecution of crimes in Nigeria as informants and witnesses would now be disqualified for failure to first depose to affidavits, adding that their rights as journalists and organizations promoting freedom of expression, freedom of the press and good governance would also be violated.
Justice Olatoregun-Ishola has adjourned further proceedings to April 13, 2016.