In what is meant to be a final attempt at stopping the Nigerian Senate from passing the social media bill, citizens are calling for a protest which holds today 27th November in different states around the country
On November 20th, the social media bill proposed by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa passed second reading and is one more plenary and executive assent away from becoming an Act of Parliament. However, this bill has been met with harsh criticism from Nigerians all over the country. At first glance, this bill referred to as the “Protection from falsehoods and manipulation, and other related matters bill 2019” is meant to stop the spread of fake news in the social media space. Everyone found guilty of spreading fake news or falsehood will be punished with steep fines and jail terms. It sounds harmless enough. According to Pulse, Hon. Babajide Obanikoro representing the Eti-Osa constituency of Lagos, said during an exclusive interview, “The social media bill is necessary. If you look at that bill, it’s not asking us not to speak our minds. It’s not telling us not to give information. It’s not telling us not to pass news. What it’s saying is that be accurate with your news; don’t put fake news out there. That is the nutshell of that bill. Let us be guided, is all the bill is asking for”.
This is not the message a lot of Nigerians have gleaned from the proposed bill. Most maintain that the government could manipulate the rules of the bill to suit an agenda targeted at silencing criticisms from citizens of the country. The bill refers to “false statements of fact in Nigeria,” but who determines what counts as false statements of fact? Where are the limitations? What defines it? Who determines it? Section 3, subsection 1 (b) (vi) reads: “diminish public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of, or in the exercise of any power by the Government, an Organ of State, a statutory board, or a part of the Government, an Organ of State or a statutory board”. Should the law be passed, this could be translated to this law being used against persons who criticize any government official or action or call for accountability. Such action will be regarded as inciting and conniving to diminish confidence in any of the government officials or offices.
Section 3, subsection 1 (b) (iv) reads, “influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election or a referendum.” If your statement is likely to call out an aspirant for a political post who you believe doesn’t deserve to be elected, you could be jailed or fined. Section 12 also gives ISPs the power to block users from internet access if they are found guilty. Note that the person could be guilty of expressing dissatisfaction with an elected or appointed official.
The response to this proposed bill has been outrage. On social media, a lot of Nigerians have put forward the theory that this is not a social media bill but a gag as it stops people from calling out politicians’ lies and false promises and from actually criticizing the fake news of projects that they spread. Criticism is not terrorism, felony, or treason; It is a human right. However, according to a report by The Herald, this could be a well thought out distraction from another more pressing issue. Hon. Charles Oko Enya of the All Progressives Congress (APC) filed a suit at the Abakaliki Federal High court, Ebonyi state seeking the amendment of the Nigerian constitution to enable President Buhari and state governors contest the third term. He prayed the court to direct NASS, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, to expunge the part of the constitution, which hinders Muhammadu Buhari from seeking re-election for a third term.
Right now, Nigerians are more focused on fighting the passing of the social media bill to law. This has led to the call for a protest tagged “#SAYNOTOSOCIALMEDIABILL” which will take place today 27th November across twenty states in Nigeria including Rivers, Niger, Lagos, Edo, Bauchi, Kwara, Katsina, Sokoto, Enugu, Imo, Adamawa, Ondo, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Kogi, Gombe, Kano, Oyo, Abia and FCT with the venue being mostly in front of their respective House of Assembly. It is left for us to see if this will have the anticipated positive outcome where the bill will be discarded or if the Senate will go ahead with their agenda.