…Social Media Bill Completely Unnecessary– CSO
…We Are Oppose To This Bill- NUJ
…The Bill Give Too Much Power To Police- NCC
…We Are Fully In Support Of The Bill- Army
By Ignatius Okorocha
There are serious indications that the Anti-social bill standing before Senate would fail following massive criticisms against the passage of the bill at the Public hearing by Nigerians on Monday.
The public hearing on the Bill titled, “protection from internet falsehoods, manipulations and other related matters Bill,” sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa had commenced yesterday with massive turnout by the members of the public who vowed to kill the Bill.
Shortly after the public hearing was declared open by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, Nigerians, who spoke at the hearing, kicked against the Bill, on the ground that it does not represent the interest of Nigerians, rather it will further compound the problem of the nation.
Even though the Senate had called for decorum, Nigerians, who were represented at the public hearing booed those supporting the Bill.
While the Civil Society Organization said that the Bill is completely unnecessary, others noted that the Bill will only serve the interest of few at the detriment of the generality of the nation.
The Bill, they said will not only infringe on human rights, but the way it’s structured will violate human rights and freedom of speech, noting that Nigeria as a country also signed international charter that protect human rights.
Speaking on behalf of the CSO, the head of Civil Society Organization Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo appreciated the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, which organized the public hearing, but pointed out that “this Bill is completely unnecessary.”
During his presentation, Nwankwo pointed out that police has been going beyond its brief, adding, “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.”
The Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) on its part opposed the Bill, insisting that it should be withdrawn.
Speaking on its behalf, the National President of NUJ, Christopher Isiguzo said that the Bill seek to pigeon-hole Nigerians from freely expressing themselves.
Pointing out that the Bill is worse than Coronavirus, the NUJ President said, “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.”
Even though he agreed that fake news is very bad, Isiguzo said that there are other ways of regulating social media, adding that further legislation on the Bill should stopped.
Kicking against the Bill, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) said that the Bill gives too much power to the Police and other security agencies.
The Executive Vice President of NCC, Umar Dambata noted that certain provisions of the Bill are difficult to implement, adding that these provisions have already be covered by other laws.
Insisting that the Bill has general drafting anomalies, Dambata said, “it is our opinion that National Assembly will need a redraft, so that it can be aligned with existing legislative drafting.”
Supporting the Bill, the Nigeria Army said that that it welcome the Bill, adding that even in advance democracy, they still have a way of regulating the media.
Representing the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Yusuf Buratai, Major General Solomon Udoma said that false information undermine leadership, destroy peace and threatens unity.
He noted that not only does it distort information, but sometime led to clash between security agencies, adding that the Bill should be considered in the interest of the society.
While the Chairman of Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Saad Ibrahim said that the Bill appears to be undefined and some parts should be deleted if it must be passed, he added that the Bill is unnecessary.
Represented by Samson Itodo, Yiaga Africa said they completly reject the bill and align with other civil society that supports its rejection.
He added that the Bill will duplicate laws that are already in existence, adding that any attempt to regulate social media, will infringe on the right of the people.
Pointing out that elections are monitor through the social media, Yiaga Africa said not only will it remove food from the table of the young people, but it goes beyond infringement of human right, affect civilization.
He advised that the Bill should be killed.
Kicking against the Bill, the Chairman of DAAR Communication, Raymond Dokpesi Jr said, they are completely opposed to the bill and should be trashed, adding that it was difficult to align the bill with public interest.
He said the bill attempt to take away the right of fair hearing and give monopoly to authorities or government establiment.
The publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore said the bill is not for the protection of Nigerians, noting that Nigeria Constitution is outdated.
He said that government should be thinking of amending the Constitution to meet the yearnings of the people.
He said “is something false because government doesn’t like it or is it false because nobody wants to accept that it is true and I give you a very simple example. In this country there was a time the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was sick and dying and we wrote in the news that he was terminally ill. It was described as false, if this Bill has passed at that time I would be seating in jail until that president would have died because for five months the man was brain dead but nobody had the ability and capacity to report it because it was described as false news.
“That tell you that this Bill is not about the protection of Nigerians but the protector of those in power. It is as simple of A,B,C. Mr Senator I am unhappy that the Senator who proposed this Bill is not on seat while I am making my contribution.I did not wish to insult him but the man doesn’t know what the bill is all about…..
“Nigeria government is the biggest purveyor of false news. It is categorically false for government to be telling us that the economy is working when the economy is not working. It is important to know that the 1999 constitution is outdated. We are talking of how to fix our constitution through a referendum because if they have a constitution of the people and by the people there is no way that will have a bill like this standing in the peoples parliament.
This bill is dead and we are here to bury it ”
The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) represented by Dr Esa Onoja, said that they are neither for nor against, adding that as an endorsement agency they are duty bound to enforce any law passed.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Committee, Michael Opeyemi 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 contail hate speeches and fake news, adding that the Bill will not gang freedom of speech as social media is the only avenue the people criticized corrupt government.
Declaring the public hearing open, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan noted that the Bill has generated a lot of interest, adding that “we need to listen to ourselves.”
Noting that where one’s right ends is where another starts, Lawan said that the public hearing is where the people can expressed their views, adding that “the Senate will be enriched from the report of the Committee.”
The aims and objective of the Bill, according to the document made available, is “to prevent transmission of false statement/declaration of facts in Nigeria and enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission.
“To suppress the financing, promote and other support of online locations that repeatedly transmit false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria,” amongst others.
The penalty for non-compliance, according to the Bill, “for individuals, a fine not exceeding N200 thousand or 12 months imprisonment or both. In any other case, a fine not exceeding N5million.
“The police may issue an access blocking order directing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to order an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to disable aceess by end-users in Nigeria to an online location where a false declaration is being transmitted.”
The Bill added that if ISPs fail to comply can face criminal charges and be subjected to a fine of up to N10 million.
Sen Ajibola Bashiru told Nigerians to stop calling and abusing them as the Bill is not Senate Bill, but from a Senator, adding “we must follow processes.”
Opeyemi said: “The Senate cannot be held accountable for a private member Bill,” adding that the lawmakers must do, according to the interest of the public.
It was, however, noted that the sponsor of the Bill, Senator Musa, left the public hearing in a hurry when the call to withdraw the Bill was intensed
This is even as some Nigerians stormed the public hearing with placards with inscription, “freedom of expression is a human rights.”