Kill social media bill, stakeholders tell Senate

• FG biggest purveyor of falsehood ― Sowore

Nigerians, on Monday, once again rejected the social media bill that seeks to restrict free speech, especially on the internet among Nigerians.

Stakeholders who made submissions at the public hearing on the bill seeking to regulate public speech on the internet called on the Senate to “kill the bill” as it runs against several national and international laws that guarantee freedom of expression of Nigerians.

Entitled: “Protection from Internet falsehoods, Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019 (132), sponsored by Senator, Sani Musa representing Niger East, stakeholders said the bill which was poorly drafted.

Speakers after speakers representing various organisations that submitted memoranda to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Right and Legal Matters, organizers of the public hearing on the bill said, the bill was out of place for a nation like Nigeria and called on the Senate to discountenance the bill.

Executive Vice Chairman of the National Communication Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Lambatta, said the bill social media bill needed to be completely redrafted as it is riddled with errors.

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Raymond Dokpesi Jnr and Chairman, Daar Communications said the bill was a back door attempt to reintroduce the law of sedition which is irrelevant to democracy.

According to him, the law of sedition is deployed by those in power to silence criticism from members of the public simply because the views of the public which is right offends and embarrassed those in power.

Addressing the Senate panel and participant at the hearing, the President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, said the Union was against the bill in its entirety because of all it sought to do have been addressed in the criminal code, penal code and terrorism act among other statutes of the country.

Therefore to import a plagiarised bill to control the civil space and infringe on human rights would not be acceptable.

Also speaking against the passage of the bill at the public hearing was the Executive Director of the Policy and Legislative Advocacy Centre, Chukwudi Nwankwo, said the bill should be totally discountenanced for its infringement on human rights.

According to him, the bill is not amendable, therefore it should be dismissed with.

Addressing the chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Professor Jumai Audi, who represented the National Law Reform Commission said the bill allocated so many powers to the Nigerian police.

She maintained that such draconian powers which the bill seeks to empower the police would make her both the accuser, arbiter and judge, thereby negating the Constitutional role of the police which is to investigate, arrest and prosecute while the Court adjudicates to convict or acquit.

She said the plagiarised bill was laced with too many errors even as it ignored the appropriate sequence on seeking redress where there is an infraction.

According to her, the police has no competence to detect and tell what is falsehood as it was not part of her training,
but strictly within the powers of the Court, this the bill failed to note.

Professor Audi also said the bill was more political and against the people than it seeks to serve the people.

Sponsor of the Bill, Senator Sani Musa, who had earlier submitted that while he wanted the bill passed, he cannot move against the public interest and could not wait till the end of the hearing as speakers after speakers tore the bill to shred.

He left the venue while the proceeding was on a situation that worried Samson Itodo who spoke on behalf of Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA).

It was the view of the representatives of YIAGA that the bill remained a threat to the freedom of expression.

Moreover, the bill was a contradiction of the nation’s ratification to several instruments on human right.

Representatives of Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), Shamsudeen Yusuf, said besides giving enormous and dubious powers to the police, the bill failed to recognise the challenge of funding the police.

He said the Nigerian police was apathetic towards the social media and lacked the capacity to undertake the task especially when it has a record of gross abuse of rights to be further empowered with the powers in the bill would be dangerous for society.

He agrees with Professor Audi that the police cannot detect falsehood.

Omoyele Sowore, who also spoke against the bill described the federal government as the greatest purveyor of falsehood seeking to shut the civil space on social media.

He said the bill was outdated and has no place in 21st century Nigeria calling on the Senators to stand in the side of the people.

However, Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA) and the Army favourably disposed to the bill, while the super Council for Islamic Affairs wants the rights of citizens respected, the Army said it would want the bill passed for issues of national security.

The minority representation was by Ustaz Yusuf Nwoha for the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and Major General Solomon Udoma who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Burutai.

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