The Frivolous Petitions Bill and Permissible Restrictions on Freedom of Expression
8 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 9, 2016
The Nigerian senate has been considering a member sponsored bill which seeks to make it unlawful for any person to submit a petition or statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and/or inquest without a duly sworn affidavit in the High Court of a State or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct in accordance with the Oaths Act. It equally makes it an offence to use, publish or cause to be published any petition or complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit and upon conviction the culprit is liable to imprisonment for six months without an option of fine (section 3(1)). It is equally an offence for a person to act, use or cause to be used any petition or complaint not accompanied by a duly sworn affidavit and on conviction such a person is liable to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or a fine of 2 million Naira or both. Under the proposed law, it is also an offence to make any allegation and or publish any statement or petition in any paper, radio or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, or institutions of government. It finally provides that any person who through text messages, tweets, WhatsApp, or any social media posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with the intent to set the public against any person and/or group of persons, or an institution of government or such other bodies established by law is guilty of an offence. This intended law, directly impinges on the right of freedom of expression and opinion and will definitely affect the ability of the press and other individuals to carry out their function of keeping the leaders accountable to the electorate. In the light of this, we therefore have set out to consider whether such a restriction of the right to freedom of expression meets the criteria set out in article 39 of ICCPR and by the Human Rights Committee and other regional and international organizations. We arrive at the conclusion that the restrictions imposed by this Bill will have a chilling effect on free speech and is therefore not proportionate nor necessary in a democratic society.
Keywords: Freedom of Expression and opinion, Human rights, Chilling effect, Konate v Burkina Faso, Restrictions on Freedom of expression
JEL Classification: K39, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation