By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Musa Adamu
The Anti Social Media Bill yesterday met stiff resistance and outright rejection by members of the Civil Society Organisations, media outfits, government regulatory agencies and the general public, who in unison re-echoed ‘kill the Bill now, kill the Bill now’.
This was the fall out from a one day public hearing on the Bill titled “Protection from Internet Falsehoods, Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019 (SB132)”, which was sponsored by Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger East).
This is even as, apparently sensing the dangers awaiting the Bill and the sponsor owing to the charged and unfriendly atmosphere against the Bill in the senate venue for the public hearing, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and other ranking senators, including Abdulahi Adamu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Oluremi Tinubu, all abandoned the sponsor of the controversial Bill, Sani Musa, to torrents of attacks and knocks by the public who attacked the senators for being puppets of the President Muhammadu Buhari let government.
The Senate President had set the stage for the Bill and its sponsor to receive their first baptism of fire when he declared the public hearing open by saying that matters or freedom and human rights should not be comprised.
He said however that the decision of the senate on the Bill will be enriched by the submissions by the CSOs, media and the general public on it as submitted to the committee on Judiciary and Human Rights.
According to Lawan, the internet which has become central in the lives of Nigerians, has its positive and negative sides, including making communication easier, though he said it makes accuracy of such information questionable.
While pointing out the needs to interrogate the usage of internet in spreading information, Lawan admitted that the National Assembly is fallible, hence he called for open-mindedness by the interested parties in consideration of the Bill, given that there are different sides to the argument.
At this juncture, senator Sani Musa, who sponsored the Bill, apparently overwhelmed by the grievances which the citizens have nurtured against the Bill, when called on to explain why he chose to sponsor such Bill, said categorically that he is not desperate for the Bill to be passed into law. He said he will withdraw it and continue to push and try his best.
He said his interest was to suppress internet falsehood and sanction offenders who use internet to manipulate and misinform Nigerians. He said fake news has become a virus and an epidemic that the world is trying to cure.
According to him, the concern is about sustaining national security and preventing of breakdown of law and order, adding that it is an enactment of a law that is reasonable for the Nigerian society. He said the proposed legislation is not another form of censorship, and not aimed to muzzle public opinion, arguing that if the extant laws are no longer effective, there is need to make new ones.
Earlier, the chairman of the senate Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights, senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, armed that the National Assembly will not shy away from its responsibility of making laws that will be acceptable to the society and stand the test of time.
He said it is the constitutional duty of the parliament to make laws for the peace of the country, which he said is sacrosanct and non negotiable, as such duty is performed through bills, oversight, and public hearing.
Senator Bamidele observed that through public hearing the legislative committee receives commitment to make laws, adding that the senate is aware of the interest the anti social media Bill has generated from members of the public, as it has come to dominate the public space.
He said the essence of the Bill is to prevent the transmission of false stories and enable corrective measure taken to suppress the effect of such transmission. He said also that the Bill seeks to criminalise negative use of the internet and to sanction offenders.
Nigerians and civil society groups, at this point began to pour in torrent of opposition, demanding that the Bill be withdrawn.
Firing the first attack against the Bill, the National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Chris Isiguzo, said the bill seeks to pigeon hole Nigerians from freely expressing themselves.
According to him, democracy is imperiled when citizens’s rights are trampled upon.
He said “This bill going by its provisions, is an unnecessary proliferation of laws since targeted offences are already covered by the criminal code or penal code and even latest legislations like the Cybercrime law of 2015.
“Proliferation of laws is not a unique ingredient of democratic governance, one of the reasons the Senate should discard the bill.
“Though fake news is worse than Coronavirus but people should not be stopped from their inalienable right of freedom of speech.
“Rather than seeking to regulate end-users of the various social platforms, the platforms should be the focus of such regulation as obtainable in other countries”.
Also kicking against the bill, Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of International Press Centre (IPC), said provisions of the bill negates that of African Chatter of Peoples and Human Rights, Nigeria is signatory to.
He specifically condemned section 3(1) part 2 of the bill which according to him , seeks to criminalise criticisms of Public Officials.
The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Dambata, declared that provisions of the bill are difficult to implement even if passed into law.
NCC according to him, only provides infrastructure for social media platforms and not in any way, regulates their contents.
“Provisions of the draft copy of the bill were thoroughly dissected by our legal department with submissions that many of them are infracting on extant laws like the Cybercrime law of 2015, Data Protection law etc.
“Besides, as submitted by our legal department, provisions of the bill seek to give too much power to the Police which will invariably lead to infringement or violation of citizens rights aside drafting anomalies inherent in all the provisions.
“On account of the afore stated reasons, the NCC seeks for its withdrawal for the purposes of completely redrafting it in a way that will not trample with constitutional rights Nigerians”, he said.
In his own submission, the Convener not Too Young to Run and the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, said the bill is nothing but legislative overkill.
According to him, the bill seeks to remove food from the table of young people and must be killed. “Kill this bill and Nigerians will be happy for it”, he said.
The publisher of Sahara Reporters, and Convener of #RevolutionNow, Omoye Sowore, in his submission said the Bill was plagiarised from Singapore without considering the fact that what works in Singapore may not work in Nigeria.
He said how can the senator copy a Bill from a country where things work to a country like Nigeria where things does not work. He asked how can the government determine what information is false or not, except when it does not like such information.
The bill, he alleged, seeks nothing but to protect those in power, adding that government today is the greatest purveyor of false fake news, given that the economy and security are not working yet government claims that they are working.
He said the senate, rather than waste time and resources on such useless Bill, should get the constitution correct by convening a referendum to get a true peoples constitution.
Other contributors like the Chairman of DAAR Communications , Raymond Dokpesi (Jnr), said the it is opposed to the Bill like other stakeholders. He said it should be trashed now, saying that having gone through it, no single item in the Bill advocated for the public interest as being claimed by the sponsor.
He said the Bill takes away the rights to fair hearing and gives government the monopoly to determine what is falsehood or not.
According to him, the Bill is seditious, reminding the lawmakers that the law of sedition ended with colonialism in Nigeria, even citing instances that democratic countries are repealing their laws on sedition that were borrowed from colonial rules.
Chairman of Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) Sa’ad Ibrahim, Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Clement Nwakwo, who vehemently kicked against the bill, said it is totally unnecessary.
He said though people are worried about abuse of internet, it has both negative and positive effect, adding that there are existing laws that can take care of the negative effects of the internet but only needed to be amended.
However the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, represented by the Deputy Chief of Policy and Strategy, Defence Headquarters, Solomon Udomwa, said the Bill is commendable as it will go a long way to ensure national security.
He said that in some advanced countries, when the time is necessary, human rights are curtailed to advance national security.
Speaking also, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), represented by Esan Onoja, said the omission is neither against nor against the Bill, but assured that if it is passed into law by the National Assembly, it will abide by the provisions.
Speaking also, the Acting Chairman of Nigeria Law-reform Commission, Prof. Jumai Audi, warned that Nigeria should not be in a haste to criminalise every action by the citizens, saying the prisons are already contested.
She further lamented that the Bill givens enormous and sweeping powers to the police to arrest and prosecute suspects, making them the judges in their own court. She said the Bill seeks to create a missing link between the government and the citizens in the feedback chain.