Critiquing the lines: Why Bill to prohibit “frivolous” petitions is anti good governance

Here is my critique (analysis) of “the bill for an Act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters concerned therewith”

Let’s refer to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s Establishment Act.
“The EFCC Establishment Act mandates the EFCC to combat financial and economic crimes. The Commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes and is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes…”

Please take note of the details in that statement. Now let’s critic this bill on the floor of the Senate.

Point 1: “Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be unlawful to submit ANY petition, [or] statement intended to report the conduct of ANY person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a dully sworn affidavit in the High Court of a State or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.

The EFCC is empowered by its establishment act to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes. Obviously it can only act if someone makes a complaint or files a petition. Then the Commission may act. This proposed bill to prohibit frivolous petitions stretches that process. Now before you can petition the EFCC to act, and before the EFCC itself can investigate a matter, both the petitioner and the EFCC must get sworn court affidavits that what they are about to do is ‘is correct’…

Where then is the privacy for whistleblowers? It means one can not quietly submit a complaint against a powerful official. E.g Senate president, governors or ministers. You have to swear a court affidavit. Have you seen a court affidavit? One has to put his/her name on it. So whoever you petition against would know you.

The EFCC has only been effective till date because whistleblowers can maintain anonymity while making their complaints. Prior to this bill, we have seen numerous public officials try to stall or outrightly prevent investigations and prosecution by going from Court to Court seeking injunctions and causing judicial confusions. If this bill was passed into law, it would only become even more complicated, if not impossible, to investigate and prosecute cases brought against public officials.

We have not talked about bringing petitions or complaints against a noisy neighbor (a mild case) or a suspected drug dealer or rapist. The bill does not make exceptions. It says, ‘any person’.

POINT 2: “Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, Agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.”

Exactly the point. But have we considered the effects of a law as this on ongoing investigations and trial cases?

POINT 3: Anyone who unlawfully uses, publish or cause to be published any petition or complaints not accompanied by a dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without the option of fine…

This one hits at how we use news media. We know how slow paced the judicial system is, as and how it sometimes takes forever to get a complaint out into the open. So people, and institutions resort the Fourth Estate, the news media, to air their grievances and force those concerned into dialogue. This freedom has been the saving grace for student unions, academic and non academic staffs unions, and labour unions across the country. I’m alerted to the fact that this bill prohibits the publications ANY COMPLAINTS without sworn affidavits.

Not everyone will have time for this especially when matters are at a critical point. But there is a clause in this bill that says anyone who uses or acts on such complaints or petitions without affidavits would be fined or jailed.

Here is the catch. How about if you attempt to go around the law by not contacting government institutions like SERVICOM, EFCC, ICPC, etc, or going on news media? How about if you take to social media? The bill also cracks down on this medium.

Let it be known that this ‘bill for an Act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters concerned therewith’ is not primarily an attack on social media expression. The essence of this bill is to control what and how we can make petitions or complaints. The point is that, unless you go through the judiciary, you simply can’t make a protest or investigate a likely case of crime through ANY medium, be it government agencies, news media or social media.

So I have to ask, what is the logic behind this bill? Is it proven that the amount of petitions, complaints and investigations in this country hampers good governance? Do we presently have enough of those petitions and investigations without this law in in place? What will happen to how we address economic and financial crimes, workplace abuse, abuse of power, among other things? What is the extent of this bill? What are the exceptions?

I have argued elsewhere that corruption thrives in Nigeria because our laws are dirty and have incorporated many loopholes. We ought to be cleaning up our laws not rigging the system with more loopholes and effectively making a caricature of the judiciary and the public. This proposed bill is badly written and is anti good governance. It should not be passed into law.


About Johnson Boyede

Johnson Boyede, B.Sc in International Relations. He wrote 'Addressing terrorism in Nigeria and possible spill over into West Africa' for his Long Essay. He contributes scholarly writings to an open facebook group, 'League of Diplomats'. He agrees and runs with the opinion of Paul Romer that, "Knowledge is a non-rival nature and only partly excludable... In an open society, knowledge's non-rival nature means that a piece of new information can be used over and over again, by different people, in varying contexts and to make new good piece of knowledge will live several lifetimes, undergo different iterations and be put to ever more unique purposes."
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