MONDAY, March 9, 2020, went down as another day when Nigerians rose with a strong voice to reject another of the series of attempts by anti-democratic forces to usurp, through legislative impunity, part of our hard-won fundamental liberties.
On that day, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa’s “Protection From Internet Falsehood And Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019” was massively thumbed down at the well-publicised public hearing attended by media professionals, civil society advocates, private citizens and some representatives of governmental institutions and religious groups.
It was transmitted live in spite of failed efforts by Sani Musa and his cohorts.
In addition to the outright rejection of the obnoxious Bill at the public hearing, over 100,000 Nigerians have signed an online petition floated by Change.Org to stand it down.
Senator Musa is seen to be fronting this Bill on behalf of power wielders who seem determined to regulate the social media space. Musa had hoped that making reference to the fact that Singapore had also adopted social media regulation would buy over Nigerians.
Like other well-meaning Nigerians, we recognise the fact that the social media which is a double-edged sword should be moderated in a way to ensure a more responsible, profitable and accountable use of it by all and sundry. However, we strongly assert that no such action should be taken in violation of the constitutional rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression within the law.
Free speech should never be criminalised through legislative instruments that defy or duplicate already settled constitutional and legal provisions.
Imposing heavy fines (N300, 000 or $825) and (or) up to three years imprisonment is antithetical to Section 39(3) of the 1999 constitution (As Amended) in that this Bill is not justifiable in a democratic society such as ours.
It gives government and law enforcement agencies powers of impunity to unduly harass those who might use the social media to criticise policies they find unhealthy for our polity.
Besides, the extant Cyber Crime Act of 2015 has more than provided enough checks against the irresponsible or criminal use of the internet and social media. Nigerians are afraid that obnoxious bills like Senator Musa’s “Anti-Social Media Bill”, Senator Sabi Abdullahi’s “Hate Speech Bill” and Senator Ibn Na’Allah’s defeated “Frivolous Petitions Bill” could be parts of plots to cage Nigerians for the unfettered imposition of a hidden agenda.
Nigerians have spoken loud and clear. We expect the Senate and the House of Representatives to respect the voice of the people and drop this Bill. We should focus quality attention to our security and economic challenges rather than exploring means of putting our people in chains.