On the social media bill

His excellency President for life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada VC,DSO, MC Lord of all the beasts of the earth and fishes of the seas and conqueror of the British empire in Africa in general and Uganda in particular ( now late ) is reputed to have made this statement “ You have freedom of speech but freedom after speech I cannot guarantee that “.
I cannot help but to relate his statement to the recent move by the Nigerian National Assembly to pass into law a bill to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith A.K.A social media bill. Going by Idi Amins statement he seems to be more of a saint when compared to our elected lawmakers, he atleast guaranteed freedom of speech while it appears that our lawmakers do not even want to allow freedom of speech much less give room for freedom after speech.
The main bone of contention with the bill is the requirement that any petition or statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of investigation, inquiry or an inquest must be accompanied by a court affidavit confirming the content of such petition or statement to be true in accordance with the Oath Act.
The bill which our lawmakers say is purely aimed at preventing frivolous petitions and preventing the spread of falsehood is totally false when seen in the light. When the draft bill is viewed on the surface it appears to be a good law (nobody should be allowed to discredit or tarnish another persons reputation)but a deeper study of the bill reveals more than meets the eye. The implication of the proposed law is really scary it is like taking us back to the military era when citizens could not question people in authority even when they did wrong. The bill appears to be a gag law on the press what it signifies is that where the press or any concerned Nigerian has any hot soup on some corrupt politician or Nigerian the story, statement or petition cannot be published without getting a court affidavit. Getting a court affidavit takes time and money as any lawyer or layman who has had reason to be in court will tell you. Where the story, statement or petition is published without the affidavit the punishment is six months imprisonement and where the story is used it provides for the punishment of two years or fine of two hundred thousand naira. To crown the ridiculous and absurd punishments provided in the bill is the punishment of two years or four million naira where the story is published with malicious intent to discredit anyone through the traditional media even when the story or statement is true, in total disregard to the laws of defamation where “ the truth ” is a defence to any allegation of defamation.
But the greatest displeasure with this draft bill is that our lawmakers most of whom are old and obsolete and cannot find their way through social media platforms like whatsapp and twitter are also bent on silencing the youth who use these social media platforms to express their views as the proposed law criminalises messages on social media deemed to be abusive or false with intent to discredit with two years imprisonement or a fine of two million naira as per section 3(4) of the draft bill. Its hard enough that the future for the youths is a bleak one but to compound our problems our lawmakers want to deprive us from finding solace in twitter and other social media platforms.
It is rather ironic that the same people we democratically voted into power now want to turn themselves into civilian dictators. The question we have to ask is who is afraid of freedom of expression?, who sees the social media platform as a threat?. If our lawmakers have no skeletons in the closet then why will they want to make a law that will gag Nigerians from questioning public officers when they do wrong.
I do not know whether Senator Bala Ibn Na Allah ( who presented the bill) and who is a lawyer and the other lawmakers are not aware of the law of defamation ( libel and slander). The law already has a provision taking care of any individual or group that feels that anyone has violated his/their reputation or is spreading false rumours about them to sue that person for defamation.
The constitution of Nigeria like that of several other countries guarantees its citizens freedom of expression what this draft law seems to be saying is that it does not agree with that provision in the constitution our lawmakers ought to know that the constitution is the ground norm and any law that goes contrary to the constitution will be declared null and void. I can just picture the lawsuits that will follow if the bill is ever passed into law. I trust my noble colleagues who will rise up to challenge our lawmakers in the court of law.
The law as it stands today has already passed the first and second hearing. All true lovers of democracy and freedom of expression need to come out and oppose this undemocratic bill which our democratically elected public officers seem bent on making into law. The use of the hashtag #notosocialmediabill clearly shows that many Nigerians are opposed to this bill. Its gladening to know that organisations such as socio economic rights and accoubtability project SERAP have taken the legislators to the United Nations urging the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights and freedom of expression to use his office to request the National Assembly to withdraw the bill. I also find comfort in the views of President Buhari distancing himself from the bill and I do hope that if the legislators go ahead to pass the bill into law the president will not hesitate to use his veto power.

2 thoughts on “On the social media bill” by Mamman Saba Mustapha (@danjuma)

  1. Skeleton in their cupboard… that is it!

    Good job.

  2. @ojestar. Thanks, yeah they must really be afraid of letting Nigerians know the skeletons hidden in their closets.

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