By Musa Adamu
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has 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.
Lawan stated this in an address delivered to declare open a Public Hearing on the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, also known as the Social Media Bill, presently under consideration by the National Assembly.
The Public Hearing was organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.
According to the Senate President, 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.
Lawan, therefore, urged all stakeholders present at the hearing to be open-minded, dispassionate and tolerant of opposing views on the bill.
“This hearing is a crucial one because the Bill has generated a lot of passion. The passion is not unexpected because the Bill relates to the Internet. The Internet has become central to our lifes, as it has reshaped how we live, work and how we interact.
“Like every other innovation, it has had its positive and negative sides. While it has somewhat made communication easier, faster and even cheaper, it has also affected our ability to easily trust some information.
“When this kind of situation arises, we should interrogate all the sides in the divides on a continuous basis. Doing this will lead to a better understanding of the dimensions and provide an agreeable way forward.
“The Senate, and indeed the National Assembly have never assumed the position of knowing it all. Our rules and procedures do not even envisage a position where we will arrogate to ourselves knowledge of everything,” the Senate President stressed.
He added that the Senate’s decision to refer the protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations and for Related Matters Bill, 2019 (sb.132), to the relevant committee last November, was just so as to open discussion on the piece of legislation.
According to him, a public hearing of the sort as organized by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, would avail the Senate the opportunity of sampling all shades of opinion on the bill which seeks to ensure the protection of individual rights from manipulations on various social networks.
He stressed that for the country to experience peace, growth and development, Nigerians must engage each other on ways to address the excesses and limitations that are a consequence of the abuse of ‘freedom’.
“It is pursuant to our procedure to open up discussions that we have invited you all. In assembling here today however, we need to remember that there are multiple positions on every argument.
“This implies that we should not just be open minded and dispassionate, but should be ready to hear the other side, no matter how strong we feel about our own position.
“It is trite to say that information and knowledge grow in an atmosphere of listening and sharing. When we listen, we put ourselves on a better ground to reasonably agree or disagree, because our own understanding would have grown.
“When we are intolerant of an opposing view, we will not be able to relate with the message of the speaker. Disagreement comes thereafter, and it will prevent us from having a clearer roadmap.
“I agree that matters of freedom of speech and the inalienable rights of man are issues we should not compromise. I also agree that the right of an individual ends where the rights of another individual begins.
“The rope between the freedom of an individual and the limits of that individual is often a tight one to walk. As a people however, we cannot stop discussing this freedom and its limitations for peace and harmony, growth and development.
“I am assured that with the people carefully invited here today, we are in a good position to proffer well-reasoned arguments on way forward on the Bill,” Lawan said.
He emphasized that, “Senate’s eventual position will be partly dependent on the Committee’s report,” adding, “the support of Nigerians in enriching this report is very important.”