CSO points out demerits of the Bill
There is another twist to the Social Media Bill saga as information reaching TechEconomy.ng indicates that even radio stations are declining airing jingles and/or advertisements meant to enlighten Nigerians on the provisions of the Bill
TechEconomy.ng investigation shows that three highly rated private radio stations in Lagos and Abuja declined to air the jingles a day to the Public Hearing on the Bill citing possible sanctions by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as their reasons.
According to our findings, the top management staff of these radio stations said that some contents of the radio jingles actually speak against the Social Media Bill they feared the hammer from industry regulator – NBC.
When contacted, the Executive Director Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, confirmed this development to TechEconomy.ng in Abuja on Monday immediately after the public hearing on the Bill.
Paradigm Initiative is a social enterprise committed to the use of Information and Communication Technology opportunities to engage underserved youths and with the core objective of ensuring a rights-inclusive ICT policy environment in Nigeria.
The Bill before the Senate is a document that has attracted the attention of not only civil society organizations like us, but the public – millions of Nigerians and even the international community.
In his words: “We already know and have made our memo very clear that this Bill is a waste of time, space and resource.
“Beyond that, there is nothing that the Bill wants to do that hasn’t been done. Okay, the important point is the fact that what the Bill wants to do it to add fuel to an existing fire,” Sesan told TechEconomy.ng during an interview.
“The Nigerian Civic Space already over regulated. We were going to run a radio advert on the Bill to basically give awareness to this Bill and no radio station could air it. Why? Because they are all scared of the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). If they are scare now it is still a Bill, what happens when if it is passed into law? What are we talking about!”, he queried.
…Paradigm Initiatives Memo to the Senate on Social Media Bill 2019
In a memo addressed to the 14-member Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, the Paradigm Initiative ED, acknowledged the diligence of the 9th Assembly in proactively functioning in line with its vested duties and responsibilities which may be sum up as: enacting laws for the well-being, order and safety of the nation and its people.
He however, expressed fears that good intentions for order and safety may result in nightmarish chaotic and painful loss if care is not taken.
“It is therefore our duty as an organization, that works around the subject this bill is addressing, to help the Senate make a fully-informed legislative decision.
“Our position is that this bill must not go through further consideration by the Nigerian Senate because its provisions are harmful to the ideal of a democratic state. We have therefore highlighted two (2) major provisions of this bill to support our position.
“Part 2, Clause 3, Sub1, b(vi) criminalises statements or expressions the government consider to be capable of diminishing public confidence in the performance of its duties or exercise of its power and shall attract a monetary fine (ranging from N300,000 to N10,000,000), 3 years imprisonment, or both.
“1. This sub-clause is extremely ambiguous and could be used as a legal excuse to accuse and jail innocent Nigerians who give their honest opinion about the government, its policies, or activities.
“2. Any dissenting opinion shared on social media about the government could be termed as one inciting the populace against the government and therefore capable of diminishing public confidence in the government. These include objective critiques of government policies and public opinion in general.
“3. Opposition parties, pressure groups, interest groups, labour unions, journalists, etc., whose existence in a democracy serve as a tool to check the excesses of the government are also primary targets of this provision.
“This Clause/Sub-clause is an attempt to shut Nigerians up from criticising the government or from offering any dissenting opinion about the government and its activities. If passed into law, it would be an autocratic law.
Part 2, Clause 5, Sub 1&2a: ‘An individual who receives financial reward to help others broadcast a news or statement the government deem as false shall be liable to a fine of N150,000 or two years’ imprisonment.’
Sesan said that this clause is basically targeted towards social media influencers.
“Once they make a post that does not go down well with the government, they could be arrested, fined, or jailed. This attempt to shut social media influencers up is a no-brainer, as we all know they can easily influence public opinion either for or against the government.
“In conclusion, Paradigm Initiative, and many other institutions present at the Public Hearing today, remain committed to educating citizens on safe and responsible use of online tools, and will be willing to work with all stakeholders on rights-respecting ways of curbing abuse without violating the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999, as amended), which clearly states in Chapter IV, Section 39 (1):
‘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 bill is not in the overall interest of Nigerians and only serves to protect the interest of the incumbent political class. We must therefore remember that the opposition of today were the incumbents just a few years ago”.