By Queenesther Iroanusi
Some controversial bills have scaled first (and even second) reading at the Senate despite the outcry against them by Nigerians
Nigerian senators boasted of achieving a lot in 2020.
One of their major duties is to make laws in the interest of the public, by sponsoring new bills or amending existing laws.
They also pass motions and carry out oversight on ministries, departments and agencies. Many lawmakers often use the number of bills or motions they sponsor to rate their performance at the end of their term.
Since their inauguration in 2019, senators have introduced over 500 bills while members of the House of Representatives have introduced almost 1,000.
The bills include electoral amendment bills, constitution amendment bills, bills that seek the creation of agencies and institutions as well as bills for social welfare and gender inclusion. Some of these bills have been passed while others are currently at different stages.
While some of the bills have been applauded by Nigerians, a few others generated controversy from the day they were introduced.
Some of the controversial bills have scaled first (and even second) reading at the Senate – despite outcry and rejection from Nigerians.
In this analysis, PREMIUM TIMES reviews some major controversial bills that were either introduced or deliberated in the Upper Chamber as well as their current status.
1. Social Media Bill
It is arguably the most controversial bill to have emanated from the Senate.
Although introduced in late 2019, other processes of the ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, sponsored by Niger senator, Mohammed Musa, such as deliberation and public hearing, were done last year.
The bill, among other things, seeks to regulate the use of social media and curb fake news on the internet. Another objective of the bill is to end the financing of online media that transmit false statements.
It prescribed N200,000 fine or 12 months’ imprisonment (or both) for offenders.
The sponsor said it will address the growing threats which if left unchecked, can cause serious damage to the polity and disrupt peaceful coexistence. He also said one of the disadvantages of the internet is the spread of falsehood and manipulation of unsuspecting users.
But this was not welcomed by Nigerians as many said the bill is meant to gag the media and critical voices.
Individuals and civic groups rebuked the sponsor and the Senate for entertaining such legislation, accusing them of not being able to take criticisms from the masses.
Protests were also held at the National Assembly asking the Senate to drop the bill.
One would think the outrage triggered by the bill will cause the lawmakers to rescind their decision and possibly drop it but that was not the case.
The bill passed second reading after four lawmakers argued in support of the legislation and the public hearing was held in March – where Nigerians, again, condemned the bill.
This paper reported the debate on the bill, the lawmakers who supported the bill and possible reasons why they did.
The bill is currently at the committee stage and the panel is expected to present its report to the Senate for further consideration and final passage.
2. Boko Haram Rehabilitation Bill
Senator Ibrahim Gaidam broke the internet with the introduction of this bill. The former Yobe State governor probably did not expect the bill to catch as much attention as it did.
Introduced in February, the bill seeks to establish an agency to oversee the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in the country and make them useful to the society.
The bill is also aimed at providing encouragement for other members to abandon Boko Haram especially in the face of the military pressure.
However, critics, groups and other senators from the north condemned and rejected the bill.
Many fear that releasing the “repentant” Boko Haram militants could be counterproductive because they could return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.
On the day the bill was introduced, some senators could not hide their surprise.
“These are criminals to whom life means nothing. So what type of rehabilitation are we going to give them? Do you even know if they are Nigerians? Most of them are not Nigerians. They are from Niger Republic and other neighbouring countries. They just believe that terrorising us and taking our resources is what is their major concern,” Ayo Akinyelure, Ondo senator, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Amidst the controversy, Mr Gaidam, in his defence, said the proposed commission would help repentant insurgents to re-enter mainstream politics, religion and society. It would also promote reconciliation and national unity.
However, his colleague, Ali Ndume, who also kicked against the legislation, disclosed that some ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members return to communities and provide intelligence to the insurgents. He blamed the death of an army colonel, D.C Bako, on one of such ‘repentant’ members.
Though still at the early stage, the Senate is expected to further debate the bill as there are no signs that the legislation will be dropped.
3. Bill to ban importation of generators
Bima Enagi from Niger joined the list of senators who sponsored a controversial bill in the first year of the ninth Senate.
The introduction of the bill in March, made Nigerians question the priorities of the Niger senators as it came weeks after the hate speech and social media bills were presented. The sponsors of both bills are from Niger State.
The “bill for an Act to prohibit/ban the importation of generating sets to curb the menace of environmental (air) pollution and to facilitate the development of the power sector” prescribes, at least, 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who knowingly sells generator sets.
It mandates all persons to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect and ban the importation and use of generating sets (generators) in the country to curb environmental pollution.
The bill was greeted by criticisms from people who wondered why the lawmaker is seeking the ban on importation of generators when there is little or no electricity supply.
While there are also no signs as to whether the bill will be dropped, senators are expected to continue deliberation on it on another legislative day.
4. Water Resources Bill
For this bill, public outcry and backlash actually worked.
The House of Representatives, from where the bill emanated, was forced to withdraw it after public outcry.
The National Water Resources Bill, 2020, failed to get a concurrent passage by both Houses in the Eighth Assembly. It was reintroduced to the House, passed second reading and was even referred to a House committee.
Many Nigerians, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, frowned at some sections of the bill which, they said, will breach Nigerians’ right to water.
Some of these sections are section 98 which states that “the use of water shall be subject to licencing provisions” and section 107 which states that a licence may be cancelled if the licensee “fails to make beneficial use of the water.”
Section 120 makes it compulsory for Nigerians to obtain a driller’s permit before sinking a borehole in their homes.
“The basic facilitator of human existence, water – forget for now all about streams of righteousness – is to become exclusive to one centralised authority.
“What next for the Exclusive List? The rains? I declare myself in full agreement with virtually every pronouncement of alarm, outrage, opprobrium and repudiation that has been heaped upon this bill and its parentage, both at its first outing, and since this recent re-emergence,” Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka said as he warned President Muhammadu Buhari against signing the bill.
5. Infectious Disease Bill
Although a House bill, the move to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases bill stirred controversy.
The bill, sponsored by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeks to strengthen the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and make it more proactive and “not just reactive and function when there is an outbreak.”
It also seeks to empower the president, the minister of health as well as the director-general of NCDC to make regulations on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria. It prescribes between N200,000 and N5 million as well as jail terms for defaulters.
A senate version of the bill, with similar provisions, has also been introduced to the red chamber.
It came on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation triggered criticism from all over the country as many, including the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, condemned it and asked that it be stepped down.
Many said it gave appointees, especially the NCDC director, too much power.
While the Senate bill is yet to be read for the second time, the House’ version has undergone the public hearing phase.
6. Peace Corps Bill
The only controversy emanating from this bill is the fact that it was treated and rejected in the eight assembly.
The Bill for an Act to establish the Nigerian Peace Corps is sponsored by Borno senator, Mr Ndume. He reintroduced the bill to the Senate after the president declined assent to it in 2017.
The president had cited security concerns amongst reasons for his decision. He also cited paucity of funds and duplication of duties of existing security agencies by the proposed corps as his main reasons.
The bill seeks to turn the Peace Corps, a non-governmental organisation, into a government paramilitary agency. It also sought to give legal backing to the establishment of the Peace Corps as a government parastatal, and allow its members to be absorbed into the proposed organisation at commencement.
Although Mr Ndume reintroduced the legislation in December 2019, it was not debated until December 2020.
It scaled second reading without an objection and was referred to the Senate Committee on Interior for further legislative work.
It is safe to say the dust that followed the passage of the Company and Allied Matters Act did not settle immediately.
The bill, a resurrection from the 2018 version which was passed but not signed, seeks to enable individuals to register companies from any part of the world.
The legislation, which was signed into law in August, came 28 years after the passage of the original CAMA and is expected to make Nigeria the best country in Africa to do business in.
While it seeks to promote ease of doing business, Nigerians are angry about Section 839 which allows the government to appoint trustees over religious bodies and charity organisations.
Under the law, church trustees can be replaced “if they (officials) reasonably believe there has been mismanagement, misconduct or fraud to protect its property in the public interest.
“The CAMA Act is a diabolic and evil intended Act. It says they can change the board of trustees and no court can upturn it. Why will I respect an act that does not respect the law?,” Suleiman Johnson of the Omega Fire Ministries said.
Religious bodies and civic groups have called for a review of the law.
Although it has been signed into law, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has asked Nigerians, especially clerics, to approach their lawmakers with their grievances as it can be reviewed.
8 Hate Speech Bill
It is difficult to exclude the aforementioned bill in a piece like this even though it was introduced to the Senate late 2019.
The bill, a bit similar to the Social Media Bill, prescribes death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading falsehood that leads to the death of another person.
It also seeks the establishment of a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to help investigate and prosecute offenders, among others.
It is sponsored by another Niger lawmaker, Sabi Abdullahi.
The bill, after its introduction for first reading, triggered outrage all over the country as many said it is meant to clamp down on free speech and silence critical voices.
The bill is unnecessary because the CyberCrime Act already has provisions and penalties for hate speech, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, said.
The founder of the Living Faith Church, , described the legislation as deriving from a stone-age mentality.
After receiving calls to drop the bill, including death threats, Mr Abdullahi said the penalties will be reviewed. He also said the bill will not be passed if it will bring hardship to Nigerians.
He, however, said nothing about stepping down the bill.
It has been over a year now and nothing has been said about either stepping down or debating the legislation.