Buhari's refusal to sign FoI bill is a ploy to prevent freedom of expression - Group

Buhari's refusal to sign FoI bill is a ploy to prevent freedom of expression - Group

- A group, Media Rights Agenda, has frowned at President Buhari's refusal to sign FoI bill into law

- The group's legal officer said the president's failure to assent to the bill was an indication that his government was unwilling to uphold and protect the freedom of expression

- Alaba, however, noted that Buhari waited till after general elections before he declined assent to the bill to avoid protest votes against him

A non-governmental group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for refusing to sign the digital rights and Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill into law.

Legit.ng regional reporter in Ogun state, Emmanuel Udom, reports that the group described the president's refusal to assent to the bill as an evidence that his administration was unwilling to uphold and protect the freedom of expression and other human rights of Nigerians in the online environment.

The group's legal officer, Morisola Alaba, in a statement issued in Lagos on Friday, March 22, said the reason given by the president for his refusal to assent to the bill, which was transmitted to him for signature by the National Assembly on February 5, was not only illogical but betrayal of people's hope.

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She said the president had stated that the bill "covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively listing such areas to include surveillance and digital protection, lawful interception of communication, digital protection and retention, among others."

Alaba said: "The purpose of the bill was never to address technical subjects in the area of digital rights and Internet freedom in any detailed or extensive manner but to propose and affirm a human rights-based approach in dealing with these issues and to ensure that future laws and policies as well as administrative actions are consistent with this approach.

"Given that no law has been passed to guide the actions and activities of government and other actors in these areas and in the light of the fact that there is no certainty about when such laws are likely to be passed, it makes no sense to refuse to assent to the bill on the ground that it may duplicate or conflict with laws that are not yet in existence."

“A more logical approach for a government that is genuinely desirous of upholding and protecting the digital rights and freedoms of its citizens would be to ensure that the spirit behind the proposed legislation and the principles recognised in it are consistent with the government’s policy stance and then ensuring that the provisions of future laws touching on the issues addressed in the bill are properly aligned with its policy approach, even where such laws seek to address technical issues in a more detailed and extensive manner.”

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Alaba also noted that the president was well aware of the fact that his position was untenable and likely to be very unpopular, which was why he waited until after the general elections to decline assent and express his views on the matter when he knew that he had 30 days from February 5, to indicate whether he would assent to the bill or withhold assent.

She also argued that the federal government had ample opportunities during the legislative process to express its views on the provisions of the bill and to ensure that the administrations concerns were adequately addressed by the lawmakers in the course of making the law.

We are aware that several agencies of the federal government with specialised and technical competence and mandates in the areas covered by the bill were involved in the legislative process and did not raise any objection to the passage of the bill.

"Indeed, they signed off on the provisions of the Bill, which was why the National Assembly was comfortable enough to pass the Bill speedily.

"We consider it to be an unconscionable waste of the time of members of the National Assembly and huge public resources for the presidency to stand by without engaging the legislative process or expressing the Administration’s position on such an important matter so its perspective can be properly taken into account.

"But to simply wait for the process to be concluded before vetoing the Bill. Whilst we concede that the President has the constitutional power to veto bills, we do not believe that the power should be exercised in such a cynical and arrogant manner," she added.

Meanwhile, Legit.ng had previously reported that on Wednesday, March 20, President Buhari once again declined assent to five bills passed by the National Assembly. The latest additions bring the total number of bills passed by the eighth National Assembly and rejected by the president to 26.

The president listed the newly rejected bills to include the Nigerian Film Corporation Bill, Immigration (Amendment) Bill, Climate Change Bill, Chattered Institute of Pension Practitioners Bill as well as Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, in a letter addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and read at Wednesday’s plenary.

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