Lament attacks on journalists, media freedom

By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

Following some bills on the floor of the Senate that are allegedly against human rights, 95 Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, under the auspices of Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Protection of Civic Space, yesterday, called on Senate to reject Anti-Social Media Bill.

This call was contained in a statement signed by leaders of the 95 during a media conference in Abuja.

The CSOs include Center For Liberty; Girl Child Africa; Global Rights; Enough is Enough Nigeria; Center for Democracy and Development; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre; Oxfam Nigeria; Transition Monitoring Group (TMG); Centre for Information Technology and Development; Sterling Center for Law and Development; Network of Disabled Women; Disabled People in Leadership Initiative; Rule of Law Development Foundation; Dorothy Njemanze Foundation

Others are TechHer NG; Zero Corruption Coalition; Raising New Voices Initiative; Concerned Nigerians; The Election Network; Center for Impact Advocacy; Amnesty International Nigeria; Free Nigeria Coalition; Raising New Voices Initiative; Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution; Education As A Vaccine; Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative; House of Justice; Garfield TV; The Art and Civic Table

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SilverchipFox; Butterfly Effect Empowerment Initiative; Youth Concerns Development Foundation; Dinidari Foundation; Partners West Africa Nigeria; Haly Hope Foundation; Youths in Motion; Gender Relevance Initiative Promotion; CedaarSeed Foundation; Women on Wheels; E-Ability Platform; State of the Union; African Centre for Media and Information Literacy; National Procurement Watch Platform; Say No Campaign – Nigeria; Community Action for Popular Participation; Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress; Tax Justice Nigeria; Women in Nigeria; Environmental Rights Action/Friend of the Erath, Nigeria; Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF); Alliances for Africa (AfA); Women Advocate Research and Documentation Center (WARDC); Women for Peace and Gender Equality Initiative; Women Rights and Health Project (WRAHP); Association of Aliwe Daughters International; Gender Advocacy for Justice Initiative (GAJI); Equality Through Education Foundation; Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre; Girl Child Advocate; Equality Through Education Foundation; and others.

The statement reads in part, “We are gathered here today to report the summary of the people’s and civil society’s analyses of the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations; and for Related matters Bill, 2019 (SB.132), ahead of the Senate public hearing slated for 9th March 2020. We are glad to inform the members of the Senate and the International Community, that the Anti-Social Media Bill 2019 (SB.132) has been widely and popularly rejected by the people.

“It has come to the understanding of the people that the Senate Bill 132 (Internet/Social-Media) Bill is a draconian and modified version of the defeated “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected Therewith, 2015 (SB.143), sponsored under the 8th National Assembly. The bill which also targeted the internet and on-line media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, and the like, was dropped by the 8th Senate following an outcry by the people in 2016.

“The latest attempt by the Senate to resuscitate an obnoxious bill that had been hitherto unanimously rejected by the people constitutes an assault on the people and a flagrant assault on the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) which guarantees the human rights of everyone including to freedom of expression. The people have overwhelmingly rejected any attempt to police the internet and gag the right to freedom of expression through back doors.

“It has been affirmed several in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right; inviolable under the 1999 constitution. Section 17 (1) of the Constitution expressly states that: “The State Social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality, and Justice,” while in section 37, it protects “The Privacy of Citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.” We invite the Senate to take a serious constitutional note of section 37, as the SB.132 clearly violates this provision.

“It has also come to the knowledge of the people that it is a bill that seeks to give the executive arm of government outright powers to regulate the internet and control communications, but which has been disguised as a private member bill in the Senate. It is therefore instructive, to remind the 9th Senate of the publicly stated position of President Muhammadu Buhari before the first version of the bill was dropped in 2016, and also the position of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Internet/Social Media regulations.

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“According to the President, “Free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues. As a key component of democratic principles, people in democratic societies are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might.

“According to the Vice President, “I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that we as persons of faith and we, as leaders, and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else, to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war.

“The Senate should also note that there are enough existing laws in the country’s statute books on defamation, privacy, libel, and slander to protect public and private individuals along with the 2015 Cybercrimes Act. The SB. 132 Bill, therefore, is a legislative overkill. There is absolutely no need for a new law especially targeting the internet and social media platforms.

“The planned public hearing on SB. 132 should, therefore, be an avenue to apologize to the people for wasting legislative time in resuscitating an obnoxious bill that had been totally rejected and to drop the bill. The Senate should rather promote bills that would improve the civic space, and not unduly restrict it.

“We urge the National Assembly, in particular, the Senate to view the internet platforms as the independent dashboard of ideas where people can freely exchange ideas and express their opinions or thoughts.

Meanwhile, the coalition also decried attacks on journalists and media freedom, which it said has become a worrisome trend in the country.

“Media freedom in Nigeria remains under attack, as shown by several cases of arrests and detention of journalists, bloggers and social media activists in the last four years.

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“This trend suggests a disturbing trend toward repression of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. The Internet/Social Media bill, the fast-shrinking civic space and the clampdown on critics of the government have shown a rising pattern of suppression.

“The 9th Senate is therefore urged to take historical note of how previous sessions of the National Assembly had sided with the people and resisted executive overbearing and repression, thereby safeguarding the civic space, and ensuring respect for Nigeria’s international human rights obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nigeria has ratified both treaties and has even gone ahead to domesticate the African Charter as part of Nigerian laws”, it stated.

The coalition also alleged that the executive is manipulating and using the Senate to suite themselves against the constitutional rights of Nigerians.

“This apparently executive plot pushing, manipulating and exploiting the Senate to regulate the social media and internet, will expose people to increased intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, and detention, and exacerbate the growing attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and activists.

“The National Assembly must immediately and publicly reject this illegal and unconstitutional bill, ensure full and effective compliance with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments. We as people and civil society reject this bill as both politically motivated and self- serving.

“The bill is a threat to constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights”, the coalition asserted.

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