By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA – AS criticisms continue to trail the ongoing bill by the Senate to censor social media in the country, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has said no amount of attacks arising from it would make the Red Chamber abandon the proposed law.
Speaking yesterday, when Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West, raised the issue under matters of urgent importance, during the day’s plenary, the Senate President berated activities of some social media platforms, which he said, had published numerous materials to undermine the integrity of the Red Chamber.
While flaying the criticisms that have greeted the proposed social media censorship bill, Saraki insisted that senators cannot be blackmailed to drop the bill.
Saraki, while acknowledging the excesses of some of the social media operators, however, acknowledged the existence of freedom of speech in the nation’s law book.
Even as he advised that the social media should be fair and accurate in their reportage, Saraki said the Senate cannot let `a few bad eggs’ taint the image of the social media.
“People must be held responsible for their action. I believe what has been raised is important,” Saraki said.
He therefore referred the matter to the Committees on Ethics Privileges and Public Petitions; Committee on Information Communication Technology; and Committee on Judiciary with the mandate to conclude the world expected and report back in one month.
Earlier, Senator Melaye had, in his point of order,said he was concerned by the growing unlawful activities of some social media users in the country, asking that the social media operators should be held accountable for their reports and publications.
He noted with displeasure that if no measure was put in place to check the activities of some social media outfits, especially SaharaReporters and others like it, the social media could destroy the nation’s democracy.
“If there are no measures put in place, this particular SaharaReporters and others have the capacity to drag democracy into crisis because they have become very reclkless.
“They make laborious statements that have no content of fact at all and because of the Nigeria’s perception it is very important that we check their activities.
“While I celebrate the social media as major actors, this Senate should not be blackmailed or cowed because of the social media. You will read time innumerable, SaharaReporters casting aspersion on the integrity of the Senate. The Senate is a sacred hallowed chamber.
“The bill moved yesterday on frivolous petitions have been misconstrued by this same people and this Senate should not keep quiet because this can have a negative effect on the Nation.This SaharaReporters have commercialized their consciences and moneytised their operations and are now tools being used against perceived political enemies.
“SaharaReporters operate from New York and this Senate must write the US government to draw their attention to the clandestine operations of SaharaReporters,” he said.
Senator Melaye insisted that the social medium operated by some credible individuals must be celebrated but stressed that those used for instimidation and blackmail must be checked.
Also speaking, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, regretted that activities of some social media operators were getting out of control.
“It is not only SaharaReporters; you have the privilege where people just wake up because of the advancement in ICT and start writing whatever without being held responsible,” he said.
He said that the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the freedom of speech must be looked into. He recalled when he was accused by an online magazine of importing 400 golf cars for Boko Haram insurgents stressing that that was a pointer to the need to regulate.
“We are a law making body and we have a responsibility to make laws that hold people responsible for actions that they take. People should not just publicize anything without being held responsible,” he said.
In her contribution, Senator Biodun Olujimi, PDP, Ekiti South, stressed that the social media was an innovation that had benefitted Nigeria a great deal.
She said that the social media helped in election and in information dissemination but added that their excesses was becoming a challenge.
Hear her: “The major problem have been the people who do not have any laid down rule as to what to do on the social media and they call themselves pressmen.
“I have been a journalist all my life and the major and important tenet of that profession is that you must be fair to all concerned.But on this issue of social media, nobody is fair too anybody; in fact I have read stories about myself where I never participated in anything that was reported,” she said.
Senator Olujimi said that due to the activities of the social media, she had deactivated her account on Twitter, Faceboke, WhatApps and other social media.
“They used the social media as a medium to castigate anybody that was in politics and anyone that was in the ruling party.
It was our turn the last time and now it is the turn of the ruling party; that is the way it has been, when you are in office they must have something against you.
“But the most annoying one is castigating the entire Senate and bringing it to disrepute, we must be able too fight that and we must look at the laws and do something concrete.
“We must go to court against those people, we must get judgment and we must make a scapegoat of some of these so that outside there they will know it is not business as usual. “