By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
Ahead of Senate’s public hearing on the proposed law to regulate the social media, Amnesty International Nigeria, Socio-Economic Rights Advancement Programme, SERAP, and 108 other civil society groups have urged the National Assembly to halt further proceedings on the Bill.
They made the call at a World Press Conference on Wednesday to express their concern over the perceived attempt to police the internet and gag the right to freedom of expression in the country.
The CSOs also called on the Senate to promote Bills that would improve the civic space rather than restrict it; stressing that the anti-social media bill has no intention of protecting the masses.
“The Senate must reject the Anti-Social Media Bill, as it is unconstitutional and inconsistent with Nigeria’s international obligations,” the CSOs said.
In her speech on behalf of the coalition, Bukky Shonibare, Director of Girl Child Africa, explained that dissenting voices would be at the receiving end of legislation if allowed to see the light of day.
She said, “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 draconian, and a modified version of a defeated Bill sponsored under the 8th National Assembly.”
According to Yemi Adamolekun, Enough is Enough Nigeria, the latest attempt by the Senate to resuscitate the bill unanimously rejected by the people, constituted an 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 severally in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right; inviolable under the 1999 constitution,” she said.
On his part, Ariyo-Dare Aroye, Centre for Liberty, said 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.
“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. This trend suggests a disturbing trend toward repression of 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 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.
Similarly, Seun Bakare, Head of Programme, Amnesty International Nigeria, noted that Nigeria had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and even went ahead to domesticate the African Charter as part of its laws.
“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.
“At a time when the United States has placed Nigeria on Visa restrictions and Special Watch-List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom, the European Union has also urged?
The Nigerian authorities to guarantee full respect for human rights, the United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed? serious concerns about human rights violations in Nigeria, it is expected that the Senate will not do anything that will portray Nigeria as a repressive state with no regard for human rights and the rule of law.
“The bill is a threat to constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights.
“At a time when corruption is endemic and Nigeria has dropped on Transparency International ‘s yearly corruption perception ranking, moving two places down to rank the world’s 34th most corrupt nation, the Social Media/Internet bill will further worsen the position of the country, as it would be seen as a self-serving plot by politicians to block the public demand for transparency and accountability,” Bakare warned.
Some notable activists represented at the press briefing include Auwal Rafsanjani, CISLAC; Kunle Ogundare, SERAP; and Biola Akiode-Afolabi, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG).