The progression of the Social Media Bill as it is popularly known, but with the actual title of Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, is very worrisome.
The bill is very dangerous and portends significant potential injustice to Nigerian citizens and a general retardation of our democracy and legal system.
At the debate on the bill at the 2nd hearing, Senator Sani Musa said the highlights of the bill
● Provisions for the issuance of regulations dealing with the transmission of false
statements of facts;
● Issuance of guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services;
● Introduction of measures to allow offenders plead their case with a law enforcement department and seek further redress in appropriate courts; and
● The provision of penalties for defaulters.
We however say that there is no need for this bill in order to do all of that as there are already laws in place that cover this. We have the:
● Cyber Crime Act
● Penal and Criminal Code (relevant sections)
● Nigerian Communications Act 2003
If there is indeed a need for a new bill, the Digital Rights & Freedom Bill which the president declined assent to and which makes provision for the issues of hate speech and fake news (which the Cyber Crime Act also does) can be modified accordingly.
This is a bill which deserves the attention of the Senate more than this harmful Social Media bill.
We also note with interest that at the time of publishing this statement, the Social Media Bill is not available on the website of the National Assembly.
Hate Speech Bill
The Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill sponsored by Aliyu Abdullahi which says an offence is committed when “a person publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any materials, written, and or visual,
which is threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour; commits an offence if such persons intends thereby to stir up ethnic tension, so having regard to all such circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or persons from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.
It also seeks the establishment of a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to help investigate and prosecute offenders and prescribes the
death penalty as the ultimate punishment.
This bill is directly at odds with Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees
freedom of expression for all Nigerians to impart information and ideas without restriction and interference.
These two bills are trying to make the media and society answerable to the government which is the opposite of what should be.
Citizens, civil society and the media are those who hold the government accountable. If they are silenced as a result of these two bills, then what hope does Nigeria have? The government should rather work with these actors to ensure self regulation.
We call on all citizens to take action. The Social Media bill has passed its second hearing while the Hate Speech bill has passed its first.
The former is now being reviewed by the Committee in Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters chaired by Sen. Michael Bamidele of Ekiti Central. Citizens can reach out to the senators on this committee as well as their legislators to express their wishes about these 2 bills.