The controversial Social Media Bill suffered a major setback on Monday in the Senate.
Major stakeholders, especially civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Amnesty International (AI), at a well-attended public hearing, opposed the Bill and asked the Senate to drop it in the interest of freedom of information.
The proposed law, titled: “A Bill for an Act to make provisions for the protection from internet falsehood and manipulations and for related matters, 2019,” was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, representing Niger East.
According to the sponsor, the Bill, among others, seeks to prevent the transmission of false statements in Nigeria.
It also proposes that any one guilty should be liable to a fine of N300,000 or three years imprisonment, or both (for individuals); a fine not exceeding N10 million for (corporate organisations) and same punishment for fake online accounts that transmit false statements.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan described the public hearing as “crucial because the Bill has generated a lot of passion”.
Lawan noted that the passion was not unexpected because the proposed law relates to the Internet, a scientific breakthrough that has “become central to our lives, as it has reshaped how we live, work and interact”.
The committee Chairman Opeyemi Bamidele said the National Assembly would not shy away from making laws for the order and good governance of the country.
But the civil society groups and NGOs, like Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), International Press Centre (IPC) as well as DAAR Communications, the Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC) and even government agency, like Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), faulted the Bill.
IPC Executive Director Lanre Arogundade reminded the National Assembly that Nigeria is a signatory to many international conventions and declarations that protect the rights to freedom of expression, including freedom of expression online.
“What we are saying is that Nigeria, being party to these international conventions should not embark on a journey that negates the essence and principles of these declarations,” he said.
Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umaru Dambata, said: “Certain provisions of the Bill are difficult to implement since majority of the websites, online media and online locations are hosted outside the shores of this country.”
Only the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) supported the Bill.