The rush by the All Progressives Congress (APC) dominated National Assembly, particularly the Senate to pass a Hate speech bill into law as well as the undue attention being given to the same issue by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration presently has created suspicion among many Nigerians that there is more than meets the eye than reason(s) given officially to justify the bill.
Also, the attention given to the bill so far as well as the speed to pass it into law paints a picture that regulating the Social Media will end the problems confronting Nigeria at the moment. This clearly is far from the truth.
Just last Wednesday, a bill to that effect titled, ‘Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation,’ otherwise known as ‘Social media bill’ scaled second reading during plenary in the Senate.
According to its sponsor, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, the bill proposes a framework and system of regulation, control and conduct of the use of the internet and various social platforms in the transmission of information in Nigeria.
According to the lawmaker from Kaduna State, “the bill is not an attempt to stifle free speech or dissenting views; it is rather an opportunity to address a growing threat which, if left unchecked, can cause serious damage in our polity and disrupt peaceful coexistence.”
The bill among others stipulates harsh punishments, ranging from death by execution, jail terms and fines among others, for alleged hate speech offences.
The bill also seeks the establishment of a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to help investigate and prosecute offenders.
Though the Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had at various fora at least in the past one year stressed the Buhari Presidency’s determination to push through parliament a bill to regulate the Social Media as well as curb fake news in order to save the country from being set ablaze by ‘reckless statements’,
we believe that the Senator Musa sponsored ‘Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation,’ bill is in tandem with the Buhari Presidency’s desire, the reason for its support by mostly APC senators.
We agree that a small percentage of Nigerians may be using the Social Media to disseminate false information or abuse others, but we note that enacting a bill whose provisions are largely draconian and interpretation nebulous, should not be a priority for the National Assembly as well as the Buhari Presidency.
The bill, we opine, will inadvertently, infringe on the freedom of Nigerians to hold and disseminate opinions, as clearly provided by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
We hold that Nigeria has more pressing issues that should engage the attention of the APC-dominated National Assembly, nay the Senate and the Federal Government than the rush to pass the anti-Social Media bill into law.
These are the issues that should occupy the attention of the Senators as well as the Buhari Presidency.
Nigerians deserve to live better lives. The economy needs to be on firmer foundation. Youth unemployment is a bomb waiting to explode.
The Educational sector is in shambles. The state of infrastructure across the country an eyesore. Needless to mention several other areas begging for attention.
We therefore urge the National Assembly members, particularly Senators and the Buhari Presidency to pull back from the rush to pass the anti-social media bill into law.
They should rather channel the energies with which they are pursuing the passing of the anti-social media bill into law into designing programmes that address the issues above.
Doing so, we believe, will reduce the stress Nigerians are going through which sometimes result in venting anger of others at the slightest provocation.
In conclusion, we believe that rather than pursuing the passing of the anti-social media bill into law, the Senators and the Buhari Presidency should ensure that provisions of the Cyber Crime Act which has provisions and penalties for hate speech is enforced wherever in breach.
The provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and other extant laws dealing with the ills that the anti-social medial bill intends to curb should also be enforced.
Nigeria, in our view, has more than enough laws dealing with ills the anti-social media bill intends to curb, so what is needed is enforcement and not another law which comes with a bureaucracy the nation will have to pay for.