Following plans by the legislative and executive arms of government to regulate the social media via a proposed bill, Abuja residents have vowed to throw spanners in the works as proof that they vehemently reject the move.
Most residents who spoke with Daily Sun described the bill as a veiled attempt to stifle the voices of Nigerians, especially the masses, who leverage on various social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, to amplify their stands on various matters.
While the government pointed at gross abuse as the primary reason to regulate the social media, many commentators insisted the government would have nothing to worry about once governance was right.
A non-governmental organisation, Global Rights, described the social media as the eye of the society as through it, thieves, rapists, kidnappers have been busted. Tosin Gbolasere, the spokesperson of the organisation described the bill as “an intention to stifle the voices of dissent.
“Firstly, the Constitution of Nigeria (1999), in Chapter 4 Section 39 (1), enshrines that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’.
“This provision, in accordance with extant international laws, entrenches the right to expression as a fundamental human right of every Nigerian citizen, and was aimed at creating a society that protects political freedom, as well as the social and economic well-being of Nigerians.
“Similarly, Chapter 4 Section 39(2) enshrines the freedom of Press and of citizens to disseminate information and opinions, such that ‘every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions’.
“The technical ambiguities contained in the bill and the open ended powers it confers on law enforcement infers a deliberate attempt at stifling the voices of dissent, which is crucial in a democratic society, and holds the Nigerian people in repression.
“The bill, which seeks to prohibit statements on social media deemed ‘likely to be prejudicial to national security’ and ‘those which may diminish public confidence’ in Nigeria’s government, as well as fake news, bestows upon law enforcement unfettered discretion to determine and declare false information, make arrests, deny access to internet and /or shut down internet services, and most preposterously, limit access to the Courts for redress.
“In light of the above, the provisions contained in the Protection against Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation, and Other Related Matters Bill (Social Media Bill) is unconstitutional, grossly undermines our democracy, and is a dangerous infringement on the Nigerian People’s fundamental right of free expression.
“Already, we have a Cybercrimes Act that addresses the supposed concerns of the Social Media Bill. Since the enactment of the Act and despite the slew of hate speech, and other inciting communications by some politicians, there is no record of any political elite that has been prosecuted for such.
“Rather, the events of the past two weeks as regards the intimidation, harassment and violent attacks against ordinary citizens calls to question what the real intent of the Bill is. Is it to protect Nigerians or the political class? We have made several attempts to ensure that the Bill doesn’t come to limelight.
“When the call for a public hearing on the bill was announced by the National Assembly, we mobilised support for NGOs who would not have access to attend the hearing to be able to submit their memos.
“Through media campaigns, we have continued to make our demands known, as well as the silicate the public on what the Bill entails, as well as what it portends for democracy in Nigeria.”
She added that her organisation has continued to work with other civil society groups to engage legislators on the dangers of the bill, while educating and sensitising the public.
On what the Bill would become and imply to the Nigerian people and the country when passed into law, Gbolasere underlined that justice would become inaccessible to the people and the country would lose its democratic powers:
“Passage of the Bill will have devastating ramifications on the rights of the people, the supremacy of the constitution and democracy.
“The freedom of expression and the press go to the root of our democracy. Once the government is allowed to chip away at these freedoms, we will quickly cease to become a democratic state. A provision of this Bill grants law enforcement discretionary powers to allow or restrict Nigerians access to the courts to appeal cases levelled by them.
“Access to justice is an essential instrument of the rule of law for the protection of human rights in a democratic society, and acceding the access to courts to law enforcement cripples the rule of law and will quickly be the death of our democracy, as we know it.”
Elijah Ahmadu told Daily Sun: “I do not want people spreading false news over the internet and I do not want people’s freedom restricted. But I believe the government should focus on preventing false information than passing Anti-social Media bill.”
Mary Ibundu described the bill as “unnecessary. Restricting our freedom to speech and expression would mean throwing democracy down the drain.”