Proposed social media bill part of larger agenda to suppress people’s opinion – CITAD

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) says the proposed bill by the Nigerian Senate to regulate the social media named, “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, 2019”, is a part of a larger agenda to suppress people’s opinion.

The Executive Director of the Centre, Y.Z Yau, who stated this at a Press conference on Monday recalled that “an attempt was made to regulate the social media by the Senate but with efforts of the media, civil society and genuine democrats among the politicians and outrage by concerned citizens, the wicked agenda was thwarted.

“Recently, in their agenda to suppress the voice of the citizens and suppress the voice demanding accountability and respect for rule of law and human rights, the Nigerian security agencies who have been harassing, detaining individuals without court order/defying court orders, killing unarmed citizens both at peaceful protests and check points have hidden behind the senate to introduce a law that will give them more power in incarcerating and denying the citizens their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution,” Yau stated.

He observed that there was no need for the proposed since the country has existing laws that deal with issues of fake news.

“We already know there are existing laws in the county, like cybercrime act that deals with issues of this regard, and if properly put into action they will address the issue of disseminating fake news and hate speech on social media in the country.

“In a democratic society where rights of citizens is guaranteed, introducing laws like this will only undermine the efforts put by our fore fathers who fought for our freedom and many died in the process. It will also make it difficult, if not impossible for citizens to hold duty-bearers accountable.

“Additionally, it will make the fight against corruption, which the federal government says it is prosecuting, impossible,” he added.

Read the statement below:

This is because it will enthrone opacity as culture in government and make it difficult for citizens to have access to information and to freely express themselves on the basis of the information available to them. This would further push the ranking of the country down the ladder from the lowly and poor position, number 120 out of 180 countries freedom of the press index to even worse.

However, it is good to note that in section 39 of the 1999 constitution as amended, it is clearly stated that “every citizen shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas without interference” it continues in sub section 2 of the same section that “…every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions”.

It is important to mention that this provision is a domestication of similar provisions in both the African People and human Rights Charter as well as the UN Instruments of human rights. This means that the protection of the right to freedom of information and access to it are global standards that should not be allowed to derogate because some people do not want to be accountable for their conduct. Interestingly, only last week the 65th Session of the African Commission adopted the revised Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa which has extensive provisions and safeguards for freedom of information in the age of the internet. So while the continent is progressively moving higher in the scale of protection of the right of freedom of information and expanding the frontiers of freedom of expression, some people in Nigeria want us to regress.

Looking at these provisions of the proposed bill, it is clear that the bill is being introduced as part of larger agenda to suppress people’s opinion. This is contrary to the provisions of our constitution and to other international commitments that Nigeria is a party to.

Gentlemen of press, shall we remind the general public the danger inherent and accompany the proposed bill? This bill if allowed to pass into law, it will give the security agencies the right to heighten the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals and to clamp down organizations that are critical to their operations. The security agencies detain who they see as critical dissent as threat or enemy to the government of the day. The law will also give them the power to arrest individuals whose views are contrary to those holding political power. It will also restrict media organizations from carrying out their primary responsibilities as the fourth estate of the realm. In addition to these, opposition will no longer be tolerated which at the end will turn the country into dictatorial one.  

Given these, we call on:

i. The general public and media houses to engage the Nigerian senate in a peaceful and lawful manner to ensure the withdrawal of the bill

ii. Senate to as a matter of public interest and respect of democratic principles to withdraw the proposed bill

iii. The president to disassociate himself from this wicked bill introduced by the Nigerian senate in connivance with security agencies.

iv. All civil society organizations and lovers of democracy in the country to rise up and condemn the bill and speak out to their representatives to not support the bill should the senate not stepdown the bill.

v. We should also condemn the reintroduction of the Bill on Hate Speech with its provision of death penalty for hate speech, which we think is all in the same vein of restriction the freedom of expression of Nigerians.

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