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Paradigm Initiative, others storm NASS as public hearing on ‘Social Media Bill holds today

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Social Media Bill
As the Senate move to hold a public hearing on the controversial Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations; and for Related matters Bill, 2019 (SB. 132), a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have said the Bill should be rejected in entirety.
Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan.

President of the Senate (Nigeria), Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan.

Recall, the bill popularly referred to as ‘Social Media Bill’ was introduced in November 2019 by Muhammed Musa, a senator representing Niger East, to regulate the social media and curb fake news on the internet. Since then, the bill has continued to attract criticism from Nigerians and civil society groups.

The Bill received public outcry just like the similar Anti-Social bill introduced in 2015 during Senator Bukola Saraki-led 8th National Assembly; which has now been dropped by the Senate.

The 9th Senate has scheduled today, March 9, for a public hearing on the bill; starting at 11am.

Rising against the ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, 2019 (SB 132)’ is a responsibility of every lover of democracy in Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative, has suggested.

Paradigm Initiative has even gone ahead to document clauses in the proposed Bill that are likely to push the Internet space in Nigeria to the trenches.

Paradigm Initiative writing about this stated thus, “Millions of Nigeria have spoken. And during the past few days, thousands of citizens have reached out to ask us to challenge the social media bill to keep the Internet free and open in Nigeria. While the calls, emails and letters are flooding, our commitment and advocacy efforts to preserve a free and open internet is unstoppable.

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“While we have been wary not to comment until we have seen the official copy of the draft bill out of our deep respect for the integrity of our regulatory and administrative process.

“We can now confirm that we have seen the official copy of the bill and given the high level of attention and the outpouring of the expression on the notice of proposed rule-making on open internet, we felt it was important to highlight the risks of this proposed bill.

Similarly, a town hall meeting was organised by AIT in February to discuss the feasibility of the two controversial bills sponsored by the two senators.

'Gbenga Sesan

Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan

According to PREMIUM TIMES, 110 CSOs said the bill is a resuscitation of “an obnoxious bill that had been hitherto unanimously rejected by the people” and should not be further considered for public hearing to be funded by tax-payers’ money.

The group added that such a bill is ‘self-serving and politically motivated’ to police the internet and gag the freedom of expression.

Bukky Shonibare of Girl Child Africa, who read the signed stance of the 110 CSOs, argued that, “It has been affirmed severally in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right; inviolable under the 1999 constitution.

‘’Section 17 (1) of the Constitution expressly states that: ‘The State Social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice,” while in section 37, it protects “The Privacy of Citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.’”

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The group, in its argument against the bill, referenced the statements of both President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo, before the attempt to launch the bill in 2016 was eventually defeated.

“Free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues. As a key component of democratic principles, people in democratic societies are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might,” Mr Buhari was quoted to have said.

Mr Osinbajo, in his submission against the bill said he does not “think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that we, as persons of faith and we, as leaders, and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else, to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war.”

Despite the position expressed by the duo, media freedom in Nigeria remains under attack. This is eminent in the recent cases of arrests of journalists, bloggers, social media activists and other Nigerians.

“This apparent executive plot pushing, manipulating and exploiting the Senate to regulate the social media and internet, will expose people to increased intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and exacerbate the growing attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and activists.

“The National Assembly must immediately and publicly reject this illegal and unconstitutional bill (and) ensure full and effective compliance with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments. We, as people and civil society reject this bill as both politically motivated and self-serving,” the coalition groups said.

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TechEconomy.ng will bring to you updates with regards the public hearing.