Majority of Nigerians, civil society groups and other organizations on Monday expressed their opposition to the “Protection from internet falsehoods, manipulations and other related matters Bill, 2019” otherwise known as Anti-Social Media Bill being proposed by the National Assembly.
The bill was introduced on November 5 last year in the Senate by Senator Mohammed Musa (APC Niger East), to regulate the social media and in particular criminalise its usage in peddling false or malicious information, but the proposed legislation has since then been attracting criticism from Nigerians and civil society groups.
But the groups and individuals at a public hearing on the bill, which was declared open by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, kicked against it on the ground that it does not represent the interest of Nigerians; rather it will further compound the problem of the nation.
The session, organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), almost became rowdy on many occasions as many of the guests often booed those supporting the bill.
Specifically, the civil society organizations, CSOs maintained that the bill is completely unnecessary, while other opposing voices believed that it will only serve the interest of few at the detriment of the generality of the nation.
The bill, they said will not only infringe, but would violate human rights and freedom of speech, with the way it’s structured, noting that Nigeria as a country also signed international charter that protect human rights.
In his presentation, the Head of Civil Society Organization Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo said “this bill is completely unnecessary.”
“The bill if passed will force the Police to do more harm than what they are doing now. There will be too much impunity; this bill should be completely discountenanced,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC said that the proposed legislation gives too much power to the Police and other security agencies.
Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Umar Dambata noted that certain provisions of the bill are difficult to implement, pointing out that these provisions have already been covered by other laws.
While noting that the bill has general drafting anomalies, he added that “it is our opinion that National Assembly will need a redraft, so that it can be aligned with existing legislative drafting.”
Also, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ opposed the bill, insisting that it should be withdrawn.
National President of NUJ, Christopher Isiguzo, who spoke on behalf of the union, noted that the bill seeks to pigeon-hole Nigerians from freely expressing themselves.
“We are totally opposed to this bill. We want to appeal to the sponsor to withdraw this bill. When the people are suppressed, it endangers democracy, he said.
Pointing out that the bill is worse than coronavirus, the NUJ President said,
Though the NUJ President agreed that fake news are very bad, he said that there are other ways of regulating social media, adding that the bill is worse than coronavirus.
Also kicking against the bill, the chairman of DAAR Communication, Raymond Dokpesi Jnr alleged that the bill is an attempt to take away the right of fair hearing and give monopoly to authorities or government establishment.
Similarly, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, who pointed out that the Nigeria Constitution is outdated, said the bill is not for the protection of Nigerians as being explained by its sponsor.
Rather, he said that government should be thinking of amending the Constitution to meet the yearnings of the people.
Chairman of Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, BON, Saad Ibrahim said the bill is unnecessary as it will duplicate laws that are already in existence, adding that any attempt to regulate social media, will infringe on the right of the people.
But the Nigerian Army supported the bill, explaining that it has become necessary to regulate the social media as being done in advance democracies.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was represented by Major General Solomon Udoma said that false information undermine leadership, destroy peace and threatens unity.
He said that the bill should be considered in the interest of the society, noting that fake news not only distort information, but sometimes led to clash between security agencies.
Earlier, chairman of the committee, Bamidele said that the National Assembly, which is the bedrock of constitutional democracy, will not shy from its mandate of making laws that will stand the test of time.
He explained that because of the controversy the bill has generated, was the reason why the Senate resolved to organize the public hearing, to hear the position of the public.
The lawmaker emphasized that the objective of bill is to curtail hate speeches and fake news, assuring that it will not gang freedom of speech as social media is the only avenue the people criticized corrupt government.
Declaring the public hearing open, the Senate President said that the National Assembly would not arrogate to itself the power of exclusively passing the social media bill into law without inputs from the Nigerian public.
According to Lawan, freedom of speech and the inalienable rights of man are issues which should not be compromised under any guise.
He added that it was in the spirit of ensuring the protection of individual rights in Nigeria that the Senate referred the bill to its Committee for legislative work, so as to get the input of all concerned Nigerians.
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