By Luminous Jannamike
ABUJA – A coalition of civil society organisations has described as obnoxious, the Senate’s refusal to kill the social media bill, despite strong opposition against the bill.
It stated that the passage of the bill would fundamentally alter Nigeria’s democracy in ways that may lead to unforeseen troubles for the country.
This was made known at a public rally by 10 CSOs held at the Unity Fountain protest ground, Abuja on Tuesday.
The Coalition includes the Centre for Liberty; Global Rights; Centre for Impact Advocacy; Accountability Lab Nigeria; Invictus Africa; Street Project Foundation; NATU Foundation; Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiatives; Mothers and Marginalized Advocacy Centre; and M.O.N Legal.
Speaking on behalf of the CSOs, Maryam Ahmed (Centre for Liberty), stated, “We are extremely concerned, that the Ninth Senate of Nigeria has suspiciously managed to keep a dangerous bill alive, despite strong opposition from the Nigerian People against the bill.
“The Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019, commonly known as social media bill has remained a lingering threat to freedom of speech and digital freedom in Nigeria.
“We believe that Nigeria’s democracy is only as strong as its promotion of citizens’ rights, especially constitutionally-guaranteed ones like the right to freedom of expression.
“To pass a bill like the social media bill will not only be a direct attack on equity and free speech, but it will fundamentally alter Nigeria’s democracy in ways that may lead to unforeseen troubles for the country.”
Also speaking, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said given the purported reluctance of the Senate to release the report of its public hearing on the bill, which held exactly one year ago, the Coalition was left with no choice but to demand a total shutdown of the bill permanently.
Besides, the Coalition argued that recent developments in the country have proven that social media played an invaluable role in deepening Nigeria’s democracy and promoting citizens’ demand for accountability.
The civil society groups, however, noted that Nigeria was already dealing with cases of internet censorship and occasional attacks on freedom of expression such as the recent restriction of access to an online news medium, People’s Gazette website by some telecommunication providers in Nigeria.
Atoye added, “On March 9, 2020, in line with the Nigerian Senate’s procedural obligation on legislative propositions, a public hearing was held by the Senate’s Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, led by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.
“Today, one year after, the future of free speech and democracy in Nigeria is still at the mercy of a Senate that appears to be uninterested in publishing the report of the public hearing, wherein the bill was overwhelming rejected, nor willing to conduct a third reading on the bill where it is expected to be killed and buried eternally.
“The apparent lack of interest from the Senate in killing the social media bill suggests a sinister intent to pass the dangerous bill, which criminalizes freedom of expression, when Nigerians are less vigilant.
“We are, therefore, propelled to demand again that the Ninth Senate of Nigeria must not delay any further to kill and bury the social media bill permanently.”