IT should be clear to anyone who cares to know that the media, human rights and social advocacy groups will never lie low over any legislative or executive threat to the democratic and constitutional rights of Nigerians to lawful free speech. We as a newspaper are firmly on this page.
We, therefore, call on all well-meaning Nigerians to endeavour to be at the public hearing of the “Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019” which is taking place today, Monday, March 9, 2020, at the National Assembly.
Our representatives must get it clear that this Bill and the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill are insidious, anti-people and unnecessary. They must be stood down. These two Bills are coming in the wake of Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah’s “Frivolous Petitions Prohibition” Bill of 2016, which was dropped by the Eighth Senate.
Apparently, following up on President Muhammadu Buhari’s several avowals to regulate the use of the social media, Senator Muhammad Sani Musa of Niger East Senatorial District on November 5, 2019, tabled the Social Media Bill.
This Bill provides that a person must not transmit a statement that is false or might affect the security of any party in Nigeria, public safety, health or finance, Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with foreign countries, the result of an election or cause hatred or enmity towards anybody or group.
It comes with a penalty of N300,000 or three years jail or both for culpable individuals or not more than N10 million for groups.
Of all the Bills seeking to gag Nigerians, this is probably the most draconian. Anyone who speaks out against some of the evils now creeping into the system and being condoned by the authorities which bespeak of hidden agenda against the citizens will be arrested, fined or jailed or both.
Nigerians should rise and take note of the relentless efforts of certain elements among our elected leaders to muzzle and restrain Nigerians in a manner never before contemplated, even by the military. This is contrary to the extensive constitutional rights and long-established democratic conventions and culture which we have held dear even before our independence in 1960.
We reiterate, once again, that the extant laws of Nigeria, especially the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015, have already adequately addressed all issues contained in the Hate Speech, Social Media and the Frivolous Petitions Bills being advocated by anti-democratic politicians.
We call on the government to diligently implement these laws rather than create new ones obviously designed to sweep away the liberties of our citizens and unjustifiably drain the public treasury.
Nigerians must maintain their vigilance and stand against any effort to make us second class citizens in our own country.