The Presidency has asked Nigerians agitating for the restructuring of the country to take advantage of the constitutional amendment being proposed by the National Assembly to put forward their case for restructuring.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who spoke at a media parley with House of Representatives correspondents, said only the National Assembly has the constitutional power to restructure the country.
Shehu however said that President Muhammadu Buhari was committed to restructuring the country as contained in the APC manifesto, but will never side track the National Assembly.
The Presidency is however not on the same page with many Nigerians and some members of the House of Representatives on the necessity of the bill currently before the Senate aimed at regulating the social media which reportedly proscribed death penalty for hate speech.
He said any restructuring done outside the parliament will be against the spirit and letters of the constitution, adding that only the parliament can successfully carry out such an exercise.
He said: “we in the APC are committed to restructuring. Read the manifesto of the APC. It is stated there and so, we are not running away from it. President Buhari is ready to restructure the country.
“The problem we have with a lot of the proponents of restructuring is that they are looking for the fastest way to that restructuring. They don’t want to use the parliament. They want to use extra constitutional bodies and that is untidy. If you are a democrat, you abide by the processes.
“The parliament is the institution of government working with the executive and the judiciary. For you to say no you want to do a congress at Yaba Market Square and debate; do you want to cause a fight.
“We must be organised and follow due process. If you have a case on restructuring, come to the parliament. In any case, the Senate President has announced that this 9th Parliament will start constitutional amendment in January. So, bring your issue. These are intelligent people voted for by the people.
“Those who shout restructuring saying they want a parallel body to-do that, we have said to them that they are wrong. The sovereignty of the people resides with the parliament and so, if you want to restructure the country, come to the parliament.
“If you don’t have confidence in the parliamentarians you have voted for, wait for four years and vote them out and choose another set of people. But you cannot circumvent the role of the parliament in a democracy and it is key to whatever restructuring you want,” he said.
Speaking on the Social Media Bill, the Presidential spokesman blamed the media for what he called unnecessary controversy surrounding the intention behind the bill, adding that death penalty is not the only thing contained in the bill.
He said there was the need for Nigerians to have a law that will regulate social media and impose punishment for violators, adding that a situation where people post fake news that leads to the death of fellow Nigerians should not be accepted.
He said: “It is your responsibility as the media to help the Nigerian government on the issue of hate speech before the parliament. The Minister of Information, who speaks for the Nigerian government, has spoken of the necessity of a law to govern social media.
“I am being careful on what he wants to do because I think there are parallel processes going on. I also blame the media for creating unnecessary controversy. If you look at the law being discussed, the media has focused more on the death penalty for fake news.
“You have a responsibility of studying that bill. Only a few days ago, the American Ambassador met the sponsor of that bill and at the end, he said Nigerians should have a rethink. It is your duty to reap it open and tell Nigerians what it contained. The bill is not all about death penalty or free speech,” he said.
He also said, “I think we have a problem that Nigerians have to address. Nobody is saying that President Buhari or the parliament should impose a law against the press. I am happy that they will hold public hearing on this and if you have any objection to some of the elements, come forward and tell parliament that you have objection. This country needs a law that will regulate social media and attack fake news.”
On the relationship between the executive and the legislature and the fears that the current National Assembly might be a rubber stamp, Shehu said “anybody who is thinking that because the parliament and the executive has worked together on the finance bill and the budget within record time, so we are dealing with a rubber stamp parliament, such a person better look back and see what happened in the past.”
In his contribution to the Social Media Bill, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), who was also part of media parley, said his constituents have told him that they were against the bill, adding that Nigerians don’t need such a law at this point in time.
He said “you know me as somebody coming from the human rights group. I believe that the right has been endowed to Nigerians and for you to take that right, you must go to them first.
“I expect the Senator who is initiating that bill to go back to the people first and do the necessary things with the people. Let that bill originate from the people and not coming from the top. To me, I have gone through that bill and I don’t think we need it for now. I am going to oppose it even if it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives.”
Another lawmaker, Hon Dachung Musa Bagos (PDP, Plateau) also said he will oppose the Social Media Bill when it is brought before the House of Representatives.
He said, “We should look at what should regulate the new media instead of hate speech or social media law. We should go round the country talking about hate speech and social media bill; I am sure what would happen to them is another hate speech. I believe we don’t need such a bill now. Let us respect the freedom we have and let us carry forward,” he said.