The Federal Government of Nigeria has intensified its determination to control social media. Yesterday, the news came that the bill known as the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 has scaled second reading in the National Assembly.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Sani Musa, and those who stand by it claim it’s time such a regulation comes into play in Nigeria for the sake of national peace and security in the country.
Apart from the social media bill, there is also the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullai. Each of these bills is seeking to control free speech and how Nigerians react to issues.
The Nigerian Senate has overwhelmingly stood in favor of the bill, apart from Chimaraoke Nnamani, the senator representing Enugu East; others have given various reasons why the bill must be passed.
In his speech against the bill, Nnamani said he condemns it in its entirety, citing the provision of freedom of speech in section 39 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He said the bill is nothing more than an attempt to censor the media, reminded his colleagues that there are existing laws in Nigeria to tackle issues of cybercrime and false information. Quoting Fredrick Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller and as reference of repercussion the social media bill may bring upon those who ignorantly passed it, he said “this bill is pure censorship; it has no business in 2019 Nigeria. I therefore oppose and vigorously condemn the bill.”
However, his opposition and condemnation of the bill did nothing to deter the lawmakers from pushing the bill, now close to its third reading.
Among those who spoke in favor of the bill is Elisha Abbo, the senator representing Adamawa north, he said:
“The issue of fake news, if it’s not regulated, if it’s not caged, it is a cancer waiting to consume all of us… I’m supporting this bill holistically, I stand to say that this bill is good and if we cannot regulate the spread of falsehood, it will consume all of us tomorrow.”
The sentiment echoed here represents what everyone who supports the bill has been saying. It’s about curtailing the damages that falsehood and hate speech could cause on individuals and the country as a whole. President Buhari, addressing the concerns about government’s move to control the media in his Independence Day speech said:
“Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our national security, we will take firm and decisive action.”
Nigerians have been a little unbothered in the beginning, until the contents of the proposed bill appeared online, and it brought outrage with it for reasons remarkable in other countries that have similar media control laws.
Part 3 (12) of the bill empowers enforcement agencies to shut down access to the internet and social media without recourse to the National assembly or a court.
The section reads: Law Enforcement Department may direct the NCC to order the internet access provider to take reasonable steps to disable access by end-users in Nigeria to the online location (called in this Clause an access blocking order), and NCC must give the internet access provider access blocking order (emphasis ours).
An internet service provider that refuses to obey the order on conviction by a court may be fined N10 million for each day the order is not obeyed.
A section of the bill prescribes a fine of N300, 000 or three year jail term or both for anyone found guilty of making statements that diminishes public confidence in the performance of any power of the government. That means, anyone criticizing a public office holder for not living up to expectation is liable to go to prison.
It is based on these highlighted sections of the bill and many others that dissent arose on Thursday against it. Critics believe it’s a calculated ploy in the guise of “curbing falsehood and hate speech” to muzzle the only medium that Nigerians have used to criticize the government and expose wrongs to the world.
The former Director General of BPSR, Dr. Joe Abba, joined other Nigerians who are registering their displeasure with the hashtags #SayNoToSocialMediaBill #SayNoToHateSpeechBill, to denounce the bill. He tweeted:
“I, Joe Abah, say no to Social Media Bill. It is a grievous infringement on the constitutional right to free speech. We must be able to speak our minds, even when we are wrong or mistaken, without fear of intimidation, harassment or incarceration by the State.”
The popular singer, Simi, didn’t hold back her voice, she tweeted: “This, Social Media Bill is very worrisome. We’re used to taking everything so lightly. I doubt most of us understand the implications of this if it gets passed. The things I’ve been reading are crazy. Freedom of speech is almost all the power we have left.”
One after another, Nigerians have been signing a petition initiated on Change.org against the Bill. Contact information of senators are being published on twitter, and everyone is urged to call his senator demanding they drop the bill.
Among the fears that have been expressed by the people is that Nigeria may end up like Congo, Cameroon, Iraq, Iran and every other country notorious of shutting down the internet whenever there is a protest by the people against the government.