On November 5, a bill was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa and read for the first time in the house. According to Senator Musa, the senator representing the North-East Senatorial District, the bill will curb the circulation of fake and malicious news on social media and not stifle users. This bill titled “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019” if made into law would ensure that ‘defaulters’ are arrested and prosecuted. The bill also contains a clause that would allow law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable the internet whenever. Talk about South Korea.
Also this morning, first lady Aisha Buhari has come out publicly to support the bill. She cites the case of China regulating the use of social media by its 1.3 billion citizens, and believes that Nigeria needs such re-adjustment too. Most supporters of this bill (particularly lawmakers) believe that its regularization will restore sanity and discipline on social media. Furthermore, older citizens, another large support base championing this bill, believe that such a bill will curtail the amount of time young people spend idling away on social media. Ok, Boomer situation.
On the other hand, people who know the implications of passing such bills into law are seriously protesting. They know that bills like this will take away people’s right to free speech, and their right to criticize the government and its agencies for its wrongdoings.
Most importantly, if this bill eventually becomes a law, who gets to decide what is defamatory/libelous or not? The minister of Information-Lai Mohammed?
Former presidential aspirant, Omoyele Sowore, criticized the government of Buhari sometime this year and was arrested. This same human rights activist is still in DSS custody even after the court declared that he be released. Asides this, most law enforcement agents commit heinous crimes, and justice is often served when such incidents are brought to the notice of the public through social media. So gagging social media users with this bill will mean that the notorious Nigerian police (especially SARS) can brutally assault and intimidate people with no consequence. Sadly, senators pushing this bill are notorious for actions disregarding civil laws. Can we trust their intentions?
The administration of President Mohammed Buhari has acted with impunity in the past, and still shows signs of not respecting fundamental human rights. It should not come as a surprise that while most Nigerians are protesting this bill, the ever assiduous National Assembly brought out yet another bill similar in characteristics, the hate speech bill, on November 12. One thing is obvious though, and it is that this present administration is seriously trying everything it can to clamp down on free expression on social media.