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Signs social media bill will not be passed

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Social Media Bill
There are glaring signs that the controversial ‘Protection from Internet Falsehoods, Manipulation & Other Related Matters Bill’, 2019 (SB 132)’, a.k.a Social Media Bill, will not be passed.

The recent public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, held on March 09, 2020, indicates an outright rejection of the Bill by close to 60 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that made presentations during the session chaired by Senate Opeyemi Bamidele who himself is known as a defender of democracy.

Unless the views expressed at the hearing won’t count when the Senate puts up the Bill for third reading.

The CSOs, the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC; International Press Centre, IPC, NUJ, Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD; DAAR Communication, Nigeria Communication Commission, NCC; Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, individuals, among others’ 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.

In fact, the session would serve as an eye opener to any Senator or Reps member that is thinking of making moves to gang the press or free speech, because even as Senator Bamidele had read the rules: ‘no clapping of hands’ but people still clapped in support of those who were not in support of the bill.

While the CSOs said the bill was completely unnecessary, others noted that the bill would only serve the interest of a few at the detriment of the generality of the nation.

Declaring open the Public Hearing, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan noted that the Senate has never assumed the Position of Knowing it all.

According to him, the public hearing “is a crucial one because the Bill has generated a lot of passion.

“The passion is not unexpected because the Bill relates to the Internet. The Internet has become central to our lives, as it has reshaped how we live, work and how we interact.

“Like every other innovation, it has had its positive and negative sides. While it has somewhat made communication easier, faster and even cheaper, it has also affected our ability to easily trust some information.

The Niger State Senator, Mohammed Sani Musa who sponsored the Bill remain adamant.

According to Senator Musa, he sees no wrong in the bill, which among others, seeks to prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission.

It also deals with the regulations guiding internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services.

Why Nigerians are saying no to Social Media Bill

On regulations, the bill stated that the Inspector General of Police shall make regulations necessary or convenient for carrying out or giving effect to the administration and enforcement of the Act.

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The aims and objective of the bill, according to the sponsor, are, “the Bills aims to prevent transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission – Clause 1(a); to supress the financing, promotion and other support of online locations that repeatedly transmit false statements/declaration of facts – Clause 1(b); to enable measures to be taken to detect, control and safeguard against uncoordinated inauthentic behaviour and other misuses of online accounts and bots- Clause 1(c); to enable measures to be taken to enhance disclosure of information concerning paid content direct(ed) towards a political end – Clause 1(d) and to sanction offenders – Clause 1(e).

The penalty for non-compliance, according to the bill, “for individuals, is a fine not exceeding N200,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both, and in any other case, a fine not exceeding N5 million.

“The police may issue an access blocking order directing the NCC, to order an Internet Service Provider, ISP, to disable access by end-users in Nigeria to an online location where a false declaration is being transmitted.”

The bill added that ISPs who fail to comply could face criminal charges and be subjected to a fine of up to N10 million.

But speaking at the event, Coordinator, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room and Executive Director of PLAC, Clement Nwankwo, called for the jettisoning of the bill.

According to him, the bill has huge ramifications that can threaten the fabric of Nigeria’s democracy and the achievements of its outlined fundamental objectives that are aided by the deployment of social media tools which facilitate citizen participation and engagement with their representatives in the 21st century.

Nwankwo, who spoke on behalf of the CSOs, noted that the bill, if passed into law, would be a threat to human rights, and urged the Senate to discountenance the bill.

On its part, the National President, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Christopher Isiguzo, faulted the bill, saying it would pidgeon-hole Nigerians from freely expressing themselves, adding that it was an unnecessary proliferation of laws in the country.

Though NUJ agreed that fake news was bad, it, however, noted that there were other ways of regulating social media, adding that further legislation on the bill should stopped.

Expressing disaffection over the Bill, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, said the bill gave too much power to the Police and other security agencies.

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The Executive Vice President of NCC, Umar Danbata, noted that certain provisions of the bill were difficult to implement, adding that these provisions had already been covered by other laws.

Insisting that the bill had general drafting anomalies, Danbata said: ‘’It is our opinion that National Assembly will need a redraft, so that it can be aligned with existing legislative drafting.”

While the Chairman of BON, Saad Ibrahim, said the bill appeared to be undefined, he stressed that some parts should be deleted if it must be passed.

He, however, described the bill as unnecessary.

Represented by Samson Itodo, Yiaga Africa said it completely rejected the bill and aligned with other civil society groups that support its rejection.

Yiaga believes the bill would duplicate laws already in existence, adding that any attempt to regulate social media would infringe on the right of the people and advised that the Bill should be killed.

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Also kicking against the Bill, Chairman of DAAR Communication, Raymond Dokpesi, Jr. said his company was completely opposed to the bill and should be trashed.

He said it was difficult to align the bill with public interest, adding that the bill attempted to take away the right of fair hearing and give monopoly to authorities or government establishments.

Also kicking against the Bill, Executive Director, International Press Centre, IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said: The bill could be used to curtail the internet rights of journalists and other professionals. The bill should, therefore, be dropped in its entirety.”

The Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, said the bill was not designed to protect Nigerians.

He said the Nigerian Constitution was outdated, adding that government should be thinking of amending it to meet the yearnings of the people.

The NetRightsNG represented by the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan, also believes there are existing laws which the legislature should press for their implementation. The body comprising of over 100 CSOs, lamented that the Nigerian civil space is already over regulated.

NetRightsNG said, “If the desire of the Legislature is to enact a law that curbs false statements online, then Nigeria is not lacking in such laws and it does not need one more. There is adequate provision for the very objective of this Bill and a furtherance of legislative actions in the direction of the passage of this Bill will only birth the conclusion that the Legislature is willing to ineffectively use state’s time and resources to chase a cause that has already been legislated over by previous assemblies.

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“For instance, ‘The Cybercrime Act 2015’ contains elaborate provisions for the penalties that come with making ‘false statements’ online. Not only do these provisions exist, they are being actively used by law enforcement against those who are perceived to make false statements online”.

In support of the Bill:

The Nigerian Army is in support of the bill as he said the mission of the army is to win all land battle in defence of the nation.

The Deputy Chief of Policy and Planning of the Nigerian Army, Solomon Udounwa, who spoke on behalf of the army noted that Nigeria has had governments that have taken measures to promote national security, “measures that may appear to limit individual liberties but all in the interest of the nation.”

He also gave reasons as to why the bill should be passed and signed into law.

Internet falsehood, he said, “undermines leadership, creates chaos, weakens institutions of governance and can be used to disrupt the economy and create social upheavals”.

For the army in particular, Mr Udounwa said fake news that targets the military “has serious impact on it as an institution, its operations and personnel welfare”.

“Internet falsehoods can undermine military leadership, lower troops morale, hurt the image of the image of the service and even harm personnel safety and that of their families.

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The officer listed measures taken by the army to limit falsehoods.

These include “doctrinal reviews, establishment of new units for specialised and specific functions to tackle the menace, improved information management, conduct of regular military-media interface, personnel education and enhancement of civil military cooperation activities”.

“The Nigerian Army Cyber Warfare command to strengthen our response – which has among other things, contributed immensely to the successful monitoring of the last general elections,” he added.

Paradigm Initiative

ED, PI, Gbenga Sesan, conferring with Chairman Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele at SMB public Hearing in Abuja

In a short presentation, the representative of Civil Voices Coalition for protection of right and privileges, Aliyu Mustapha, said “they have acknowledged the threat to national security and everything goes with regulation”.

He said they support the bill but that section that will affect the right of Nigerians should be look into. He did not elaborate.

Also, the Director of Administration at the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha, said the bill “that seeks to criminalise the issue of internet falsehood is supported by Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs”.

He, however, urged the Senate to harness and pass the bill in such a manner that it will not gag the freedom of speech of people as enshrined in the constitution. “Outside this, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs supports this bill,” he said.

Sitting on the fence:

The Head, Media and Public Affairs of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, Abdulrazaq Barkindo who represented the forum, said the position of governors was still being collated.

According to him, the governors will want to get input of legislators of their states before forwarding their position.

On its part, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, represented by Dr Esa Onoja, said the agency was neither for nor against the bill, adding that as an endorsement agency, it was duty- bound to enforce any law passed.

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Has the message been passed to the Senators?

Relatively, yes. It now behoves on them to do the needful.

The chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele clarified after testimonies.

He said the Bill was a “Private Bill”, implying it was neither the collective views of the Senator nor and executive bill.

The Senate has not taken a position on the bill as there are senators for and against the bill, he said.

“We will consider all of this and advise the senate based on our findings after the consideration of all preponderance of opinion written and expressed,” Opeyemi said. “We will go by what we see as the overriding public interest.”

At this point, Senator Musa had left the venue. He had conceded in his testimony that his will didn’t need to prevail at this hearing, though he remains committed to fighting for the bill. Any objective reading of the room should declare him the presumptive loser.

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[TechEconomy.ng was at the Public Hearing through the logistic supports by Paradigm Initiative. PI 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].

ALSO READ  ISPON moves for the protection of innovation ecosystem in Social Media Policy; releases report
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