Introducing the anti-social media bill in Nigeria will keep us one step away from complete dictatorship in this current administration. The EndSARS movement which spiral out of control October 2020 caught the current administration by surprise and are determined never to let it happen again.
The movement brought the country to a standstill and a sense of “power to the people” was instilled into Nigerian youths. Buhari`s administration took the protest lightly before it gained mass movement and was spread globally. EndSARS hashtag went viral and it caught the attention of several celebrities who hijacked the movement.
Nigerian youths demand not only the scrapping of the notorious SARS group but also demanded free speech and good governance.
The current administration was quick to introduce a bill that will cut short any kind of mass protest by regulating free speech. The Bill was disguised as a bill to help curb the outrageous number of internet fraudsters in Nigeria. Many campaigners have taken to social media platforms, print media and radio to speak against the bill which passes the first and second reading in the Nigerian senate.
Since the introduction of this bill, there has been an uproar by several Human rights and civil society organizations both local and international against the passage of the bill into law in Nigeria. It has been noted that between 2017 and 2020, the Federal government of Nigeria have either sponsored or promoted similar bills, aimed at curtailing human and civil rights of citizens and press freedom. Some of such bills include the Hate Speech Bill and the Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill.
Social Media Support For The Movement In Nigeria
With the support given by the Federal Government so far, it has become clear that there is an agenda to stifle the freedom of the citizens. It is on this basis that it appears that there is a consensus among human right activists and international community that the bill is one of the tool or instrument the government is setting up to use to gag Nigerians and stifle free speech in Nigeria.
An exclusive interview from Boston radio station WNTN 1550AM regarding the anti-social media bill in Nigeria was played on ireport247 YouTube channel. Barrister IK of Equity International made the best case for why this bill should be scratched before the president signed it into law.
The barrister narrates how the anti-social media bill targeted faith and religion in the country. He continues by pointing directly into the Nigerian 1999 constitution to prove how all Nigerians have the right to free speech and religion of choice.
Barrister IK helps us understand how the bill veto simple statements on social media platforms which the current administration deemed “Likely to be bigotry or biased” and “statements that might diminish public confidence in the Buhari`s administration.” The bill further proposes fines, prison sentences of up to 3 years or both for anyone who the government found guilty.
The Barrister further emphasis the power the bill gives law enforcement agencies that are solely controlled by the government to cut or disable internet access to anyone found guilty on any of these charges.
Section 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended says; ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. 39(2) provides in part; ….every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions’. Sadly, this is the very thing that the framers, sponsors and promoters of this bill want to suppress.
The Legislative Progress of The Anti Social Media Bill In Nigeria
Despite the overwhelming opposition to the bill, It is gaining movement in the Nigerian Senate. The ruling party gained a lot of seats and now controls both the House of Representatives, Senate and the Presidency in the last election marred with fraud. Using the majority vote, the toxic bill that was killed In the senate years back, passed several readings and reports confirmed the presidency is ready to sign this into law.
Barrister IK further explains how the bill writers define each speech to suit the big government. The human rights lawyer continue by explaining how the constitution protects us and why we must all rise and never let this bill be signed into law.
For example, under Section 3(b)(vi) of the Anti-Social Media bill, it is an offence to do anything that would diminish public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of or in the exercise of any power of the government. This simply, criminalizes criticizing the government or disseminating an unfavorable opinion about the government. This implies that no citizen has the right to condemn any action of the government nor speak against anything done by the government. This bill is also a threat to our democracy! Democratic campaigns are all about criticism; which means a ruling party can use the bill against any member of the opposition party that criticizes it. Finally, this bill gives the police the sole and supreme power to issue regulation of false declaration, online location, etc, and go ahead to mete out punishment for the alleged false declaration or other alleged breach of the law. Therefore the presumption of innocence of the accused person provided for by the constitution is gone. The police is both the accuser, investigator and judge over alleged violation of this law. This is total violation of human rights and everything that fairness, justice and democracy stands for.
The Bill Condemnation
However, in spite of the overwhelming condemnation of this bill by the majority of Nigerians and global voices, the sponsors and supporters of this obnoxious bill are bent on pushing it through the legislative process and enacted into law. It is imperative that any effort to stop the passage of this bill into law must be made now. Such effort include galvanizing public rejection of the bill, direct sensitization of the general public and citizens of Nigeria in diaspora on the heinous contents and provisions of the proposed law and the dire consequences the enactment of this bill into law would birth in Nigeria.
To enact laws which close up the space for conversation or criminalizes airing or transmission of views or facts is not acceptable, would be nothing short of inviting violent dissent and being a major set-back in our democracy.
Nigeria constitution protects its citizens, protect the right to freedom of speech, expression and provide that any hindrance to this right must be legitimate in our society. Barrister IK concluded by urging the government to get rid of this anti-social media bill and let everyone exercise their rights to peaceful criticism of Nigeria`s big government without fear of being censored, face government retaliation, or legal sanctions that might affect livelihood and properties.
We need to act now! Join us today by signing this petition to stop the passage of this bill in to law in Nigeria.