…NCC, BON, NUJ, PLAC, AI, others call for bill’s withdrawal
.Stakeholders across different divides of the Nigerian society on Monday unanimously rose in condemnation of a proposed Senate bill meant to regulate activities on the social media.
Aggregate opinions at the public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on the bill titled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehoods, Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019 (SB132) was that the sponsor of the bill, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (APC Niger East), should withdraw the bill which stands to stiffle public opinion and negate principles of fundamental human rights.
This was as the excessive power by the bill given to the Nigerian Police to prosecute offenders was described as, overconcentration, draconian and unacceptable.
While submissions of media organisations and civil society organisations against the bill were expectedly negative, government agencies and departments at the public hearing also faulted the bill while only the Nigerian Army supported the bill.
Leading the positions of media organisations, National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Chris Isiguzo, reaffirmed NUJ’s position that the bill seeks to pidgeonhole Nigerians from freely ecpressing themselves.
The NUJ said the bill if passed will erode the right to expression, restrict freedom of speech and imperil democracy.
Isiguzo said: “The bill is an unnecessary proliferation of existing laws that has substantially dealt with misinformation. If there is the need to look at the existing laws, we should go ahead to do that than to proliferate them.
“People should not be stopped from expressing themselves. Government can regulate platforms but regulating end users is against the spirit and letters of the constitution”.
Canvassing the position of the International Press Centre, its Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, while opposing the bill reminded the sponsor that Nigeria is signatory to many international conventions that recognises rights and freedom of speech.
The Daar Communications Plc, owners of AIT, categorically stated that the bill should either be withdrawn by its sponsor or be quashed at further deliberation in the Senate.
Chairman of the media organisation, Raymond Dokpesi Jnr, said the bill lacks the merit of being in the public interest as it attempts to take away the right to fair hearing and give monopoly to governent apparatus to determine what is right or wrong.
He said: “The bill attempts to reintroduce the law of sedition into Nigeria’s legal system. I do not see the difference between sedition and the bill. The bill should be withdrawn,” he stated.
Civil society organisations were unanimous in condemning the bill in its entirety as the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), a sponsor of the public hearing, discountenanced the bill on the account that it infringes on human right.
Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, PLAC, said the bill is unnecessary “because a lot of people are worried about the use of social media.
“The bill has huge ramifications that could threaten the fabric of Nigerian’s democracy and the achievement of its outlined fundamental objectives that are aided by the deployment of technology such as social media tools which facitates citizen participation and engagement with their elected representatives,” Nwankwo added.
The Amnesty International (AI) said the bill is a threat to democracy while stresssng that there are cases of repression against journalists and media practitioners in the country.
The body said “the restriction placed by the bill is not reasonably justifiable. It is very restrictive, not objective and prone to abuse”.
Shamsudeen Yuduf on behalf of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said the bill should not be passed as it among others does not provide for standard investigation mechanism.
He picked hole in the bill for capable on infriging on econonic rights of Nigerian youths who are predominant on the internet.
“Shutting down access to internet is usafe and is a great hindrance to economic growth,” he said.
YIAGA Africa said the bill is going to be legislative overkill in view of existing laws guiding misinformation.
Stating YIAGA’s pisition, Samson Itodo, Executive Director, said the bill “violates fundamental human rights of the citizens especially section 17(1) of the 1999 constitution, contravenes existing international statutes to which Nigeria is a signatory and that sufficient legislations currently exists to cater for protection from falsehood and manipulatuons.
Leading the pack of government agencies that condemned the bill was the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which said the bill could lead to abuse of human rights.
The Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Dambatta, said the provision of the bill will be difgicult to implement.
He faulted the bill for giving much power to the Nigerian Police while submitting that some provisions of the bill are already covered by extant laws.
“The bill has general drafting anormalies. In our submission, the NCC suggests that the National Assembly may need a complete re- draft of the bill”.
The Nigerian Law Reforms Commission said there should be a balance between interest of the people and that of government.
The acting Director General, Prof. Jumai Audi, said there is need to check excessive powers given the Police by the bill which she described as draconian.
She also pointed out grammatical errors in the bill.
The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) posited that the bill is “undefined and misleading”.
It added that it is unnecessary as extant laws already deal with issues raised by the bill.
Also, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) faulted powers arrogated to the police by the bill.
The publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, in his presentation, caused uproar as he expressed disappointment that the sponsor of the bill, Senator Sani had left the hall before he could make his submission.
However, Sowore said the bill is not for the protection of Nigerians but protection of those in government.
He said though the bill was plagiarized from Singapore, the sponsor failed to domesticate it to the Nigerian society.
Sowore said “the Nigerian government is the biggest purveyor of false news. It is wrong for government for example to tell Nigerians that the economy is working while it is not working”.
The right activist canvassed a holistic review of the Nigerian constitution which in itself is not drafted by Nigerian people.
“The bill is dead”, he said.
The only body that supported the bill was the Nigerian Army, which welcomed the bill for reasons of national security.
Deputy Chief of Policy and Plans, Maj. Gen Solomon Uduonwa, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, said government must take measures to defend national security and limit personal liberty where necessary in the overall national interest.
He said “falsehood may undermine national national security, reduce morale of the troops”.
According to him, the Nigerian Army submitted a 31 points memoranda in support of the bill.
The sponsor, Sen. Sani said the bill is not personally motivated but done in national intetest as there is need to legalise framework to guide the social media space.
He said: “Fake news has become not only a virus but an epidemic that the world is trying to cure and Nigeria cannot be an exception.
“The most prominent aspect of hate speech in Nigeria is threat to national security and peace and stability of the country”.
Sani debunked the rumour that he sponsored the bill on the instigation of Federal Government. He said though Nigeria is the 8th most user of the internet in the world, the country lacked data protection legislation.
In his opening address, chairman of the committee, Sen. Opeyemi Bamidele, said the National Assembly will not make laws that will be against public interest.
He said the committee just provides a platform of the public hearing as a hallmark of legislative responsibility for Nigerians to hear their views on sny public issue.
Bamidele said the committee will present collated views of stakeholders to the Senate for further deliberations.
Declaring the public hearing open, Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, said “this important bill has had its positive and negative comments. There is need for parliament to interogate all devices without assuming the position of arrogating to itself the knowledge of knowing it all, hence it referred the bill to the committee for public hearing”.
Lawan agreed that freedom and inalienable rights of human should not be compromised but there should be limitations to ensure peace, harmony and development.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has called on Nigerians, including the media, organised civil society and all pro-democracy groups to unite against moves to pass the obnoxious anti-social media bill at the National Assembly.
The party alleged that the Buhari Presidency, through the bill, seeks to gag Nigerians, suspend the constitutional provision of free speech and foist a dictatorial system on the country.
The PDP said “it is time for Nigerians to eschew all political, sectional and religious differences and stand in unity against a bill that is clearly designed to suppress and silence the people, emasculate institutions of democracy, particularly the media, take away the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech of citizens and turn them into conquered people without a voice, in their own country.
“It is clear that this bill is part of the anti-democratic moves to further emasculate the 1999 Constitution (as amended) ostensibly as a prelude to foisting a full totalitarianism in our country, where citizens will no longer have the right to freely hold or support opinions.
“It is obvious that the reason for this bill is to suppress democratic rights and prevent Nigerians, the media, civil society groups, pro-democracy organisations, the opposition and dissenting voices from freely criticizing the atrocities, abuses, incompetence, corruption, security compromises, nepotism and general misrule that have pervaded the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.”
The party in a statement by its spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the frenzy to pass this bill further exposes the intolerance of the Buhari-led administration as well as the desperation to cover its atrocities for which it is mortally afraid of public criticisms.
The PDP expressed worry that the Senate listed the unconstitutional and anti-people bill for second reading procedures even when Nigerians across board had reached a consensus in rejecting the bill, given its underlying fascist intendments.
The party held that the nation already has appropriate laws guiding the boundaries of free speech and opinion, which the authorities can enforce within the ambits of constitutional provisions, in the case of any violation.
It therefore urged the leadership of the National Assembly to resist all pressure from enemies of democracy to pass the bill described as unconstitutional and anti-people.