We read with total dismay, the attempt by the Nigeria Senate to limit the right to free speech, a fundamental and inalienable rights of Nigerian Citizens through “The Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith (SB.143 )” (A.K.A “Social Media Bill”) sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’ Allah from Kebbi South. We consider this bill as unnecessary, because the Cybercrime act 2015 (Section 24) which in itself should be amended, already has tougher provisions. Also, Nigeria has laws that cover libel and slander.
The said bill in Section 3 (3), attacks free speech offline. It states that a person shall be liable for imprisonment of 2 years or 4 million Naira for publishing an allegation, a petition or a statement with a “malicious intent to discredit or set the public (“public” written as “published” in the said bill) against any person or group of persons, institutions of government in newspapers, radio or any other medium whatsoever”.
Section 3 (4) of the same bill attacks free speech online, stating a 2-year jail term or 2 million Naira or both as punishment for sharing messages that are classified vaguely as “abusive”, on any social media platform.
‘Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria said, “Some contents of this bill are very vague. For example the words “abusive”, “malicious intent” were used loosely, thereby creating a vacuum that will be used by the powerful and public officials to suppress the voice of citizens.”
“The Bill is another attempt at limiting freedom of expression, especially on a platform that has allowed citizens to connect with others who also need to do the same, so they can take appropriate joint action,” stated ‘Boye Adegoke , Program Manager (ICT Policy) at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria.
“This further reinforces the trend of repressive-only legislation in the online space in Nigeria. The Cybercrime Bill which was passed into law by the 7th National Assembly is yet to be used to convict a single cyber-criminal in the last six months since it was passed, yet within the same space of time, relying on same legislation, there have been arrests and detention of at least three (3) bloggers for writing what has been deemed offensive to the ‘powerful’. This helps to show the true intent of the promoters of such legislations.”
Chude Jideonwo, Managing Partner of The Future Project added: “With internet penetration rapidly growing in Nigeria and more people engaging the online space with issues of accountability in government, we must defend the integrity and viability of this new-found platform as there are forces who are bent on suppressing the voice of citizens.”
We want to state unequivocally as concerned organizations that we reject this attempt by the Nigerian Senate to suppress the voice of citizens. We consider this move as repressive, backward and against the spirit of democracy.
In partnership with other members of the NetRightsNG civil society coalition, including Enough is Enough Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria has drafted a positive rights bill, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, to codify the online rights of citizens. As work continues with legislators to present the bill in the Senate and the House of Representatives, we invite legislators to focus on promoting openness and guarantee rights instead of attempts that can hurt Internet Freedom in Nigeria, so that we can consolidate on the gains of citizens’ participation in governance processes through legislations that promote free speech, to formally situate power where it actually belongs – with the Office of the Citizen.