Some Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria have identified some key issues embedded in the Social Media Bill, which is presently being debated by the National Assembly.
The key issues, according to the organisations comprising of Paradigm Initiative, Media Right Agenda and Enough is Enough Nigeria are the transmission of a false statement of facts, jamming the Internet and criminalization of misrepresentation of facts.
Transmission of a false statement of facts: the societies interpret it you must not make false statements that diminish public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of or in the exercise of any power by the government. This, according to the CSO will silence criticisms and stifle opposition. “If you share information that can paint the government in a bad light, you are guilty,” it noted.
Jamming the Internet: The Nigeria Police Force may direct the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to order the internet access service provider to take reasonable steps to disable access by end-users in Nigeria to the online location. The implication of this is that if the online location is being used by over 3 million Nigerians, this implies the
online location (website, webpage, chatroom etc.) will be denied access because of the sin of one person.
Criminalization of misrepresentation of facts: A declaration is false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears. Different people are likely to imply different things from the same statement. So why should someone be punished because some set of people interpreted a piece of information wrongly? Also, it is unreasonable to interpret a statement on its own devoid of the context it was used.
They also highlighted those the Bill is likely to affect. They include individual, media organization, Internet Service Providers and all businesses that use the Internet.
The CSOs also argued that the Cybercrime Act 2015, which was assented by Former President Goodluck Jonathan was so broad it provided room for abuse. “Our existing laws are enough to address all possible crimes in using social media. Why do we need to create new ones to silence dissenting voices,” they questioned.
Recall Senator Bala Na’Allah, representing Kebbi South had on November 24, 2015, sponsored a bill to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith. The bill was a guise to restrict freedom of expression and gag Nigerians on social media. The bill was later withdrawn on May 17, 2016, after public outcry, owing to the repressive nature of the bill and its infringement on individuals’ rights online.
On Wednesday, July 11th, 2017, Mr. Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information & Culture, launched a campaign against fake news. On Tuesday, October 29th same year, he reiterated the the government’s commitment to regulate social media.
On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa representing Niger east reintroduced the bill to regulate social media, protection of Internet falsehood and manipulation bill 2019.