The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, to reject the recently reintroduced social media regulation bill. The non-governmental organisation argued that if the obnoxious bill is passed into law, it would interfere with the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and privacy.
SERAP maintained that rather than rushing to pass the social media regulation bill, the National Assembly should encourage the federal government to maximise opportunities around social media access and address the growing social and economic inequalities in the country.
The group had in a letter addressed to the leadership of the National Assembly kicked against the reintroduction of the social media regulation bill, which many Nigerians believe is another means to gag the irrepressible Nigerian media. SERAP’s intervention came on the heels of remarks by the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Balarabe Ilelah, that the social media regulation bill has been sent to the National Assembly.
The NBC boss, who made the disclosure during a meeting with the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, referred to social media as a monster that needed to be tamed by the bill. He explained that the existing law does not provide the NBC with the authority to oversee and regulate social media platforms.
“One of our major problems now is social media. Unless there is a law that allows NBC to act on social media issues, the issue will continue to be a monster in our daily lives in this country,” the NBC boss stated. The proposed legislation, which has been submitted to the National Assembly, seeks to repeal and reenact the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act, CAP L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
This is not the first time the federal government will attempt to control the media through a bill targeted at the social media. Good enough, past attempts to legislate anti-media laws by the federal lawmakers were vehemently rejected by Nigerians. In the same way, the present attempt to muzzle the media via the controversial social media regulation bill is bound to fail.
Therefore, we advise the lawmakers to deliberate on other worthy causes and drop forthwith the needless and inimical social media regulation bill. We have enough laws to regulate the media already. There is no need for fresh ones. The bill, named the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, is specifically tailored to empower the government to cut off internet access or block specific social media platforms at its discretion.
The bill also contained provisions prohibiting statements online deemed likely to be prejudicial to national security and those which may diminish public confidence in Nigeria’s government. It prescribed fines of up to N300,000 or imprisonment for up to three years. Promoters of the bill claimed that it would enhance security, peace and unity in the country by curbing the spread of false statements. The provisions of the bill are punitive and cannot advance our nascent democracy or the rule of law.
That is why most Nigerians are opposed to the new bill. And more than 85,000 people signed an online petition demanding that the bill should be jettisoned without any delay. To them, the bill is nothing but a backdoor approach to silence critical voices in Nigeria. We enjoin the leadership of the National Assembly to listen to Nigerians and drop the evil bill immediately.
The provisions of the social media bill can be abused by the government in power. The bill is pro-government and anti-people. If the government controls the media via the new social media regulation bill, Nigerians would have lost the freedom for expression enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Nigeria has signed treaties and conventions on freedom of information and expression. It cannot be seen to be working against such principles at home. It is the duty and responsibility of the government to promote and facilitate the enjoyment of human rights, take necessary steps to ensure that all individuals have meaningful access to information and not to curtail same.
Under Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, provide for freedom of expression. Any law that negates these rights must be thrown away. The new social media regulation bill is against the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.
No doubt, access to social media is central to freedom of expression and the realisation of many other human rights, including education, freedom of association and assembly, access to information and participation. Social media is neither Nigeria’s problem nor a monster. There is even no need to kill it.