By Okeke Jane
A Coalition of 110 Civil Society Organizations has urged the 9th Senate to reject the anti-social media bill saying that it is unconstitutional and inconsistent with Nigeria’s international obligations.
The group which stated this on Wednesday in Abuja during a press conference, made it known that it is expressing the summary of the people’s and civil society’s analysis of the protection from internet falsehood and manipulations and related matters bill, 2019, ahead of the senate public hearing slated for 9th March, 2020.
According to Bukky Shonibare of Girl Child Africa, it has come to the understanding of the people that the Senate Bill 132 (Internet/Social Media) bill is a draconian and modified version of the defeated ‘Bill for an Act to prohibited frivolous petitions and other matters sponsored under the 8th National Assembly.
She said that bill which also targeted the internet and online media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, was dropped by the 8th Senate due to an outcry by the people in 2016.
“The attempt by the Senate to resuscitate an obnoxious bill that had been hitherto unanimously rejected by the people, constitutes an assault on the people and a fragrant assult on the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) which guarantees the human rights of everyone including the freedom of expression.
“The people have overwhelmingly rejected the any attempt to Police the internet and gag the right to freedom of expression through back doors.
“It has been affirmed severally in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right, inviolable under the 1999 constitution.
“Section (7/(1) of the Constitution expressly states that ‘The state social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equity and justice, while in section 37 , it protects, ‘the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.
“We invite the Senate to take a serious constitutional note of section 37, as the social media bill 132 clearly violates this provision,” she said.
Seun Bakare, Head of Programs, Amnesty International, pointed out that the it has come to the knowledge of that the bill seeks to give the executive arm of government outright powers to regulate the internet and control communications, but has been disguised as a private member bill in the Senate.
“It is therefore instructive to remind the 9th Senate of the publicly stated position of President Buhari before the first version of the bill was dropped in 2016, and also the position of Vice President Osinbajo on internet/social media regulations.
“According to the President,” Free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues.
“According to the Vice President,” I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that the we as persons of faith and we as leaders and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war.
“The 9th Senate is therefore urged to take historical note of how previous sessions of the National Assembly had sided with the people and resisted executive overhauling and repression, thereby safeguarding the Civic space, and ensuring respect for Nigeria”s international human rights obligations.
“The National Assembly must must immediately and publicly reject this illegal and unconstitutional bill, ensure full and effective compliance with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
“We as a people and civil society reject this bill as both politically motivated and self serving,” he stated.
He also urged the National Assembly, the Senate in particular to view the internet platforms as independent dashboard of ideas where people can freely exchange ideas and express their opinions or thoughts.
The Civil Society Organizations that signed the statement include Centre for Liberty, Girl Child Africa, Global Rights, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development, and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, among others.