On November 5, 2010, Anti Social Media Bill was introduced by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa from the largely conservative Northern Nigeria. The supposed motive of this Bill is to criminalize the use of social media in peddling false or malicious information. It was officially termed the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and for other related matters Bill 2019. The core content of the bill is; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube & similar platforms have become hotbeds of misinformation capable of fracturing national security. After the bill passed second reading on the floor of the Nigeria Senate and its details were made public, information emerged on the social media accusing the sponsor of the bill of plagiarizing a similar law in Singapore which is at the bottom of global ranking in the freedom of speech and of the press. But the Senator denied that he plagiarized Singapore law. Social media bill is needed to provide a legal framework that guides Nigeria’s social space, Musa said.
Angry reaction trailed the introduction of the bill and a number of civil society organizations, human rights activists, and Nigerian citizens unanimously opposed the bill. International right group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the proposed legislation saying it is aimed at gagging freedom of speech which is a universal right in a country of over two hundred million people.
Opposition political parties are very critical of the bill and accused the government of attempting to strip bare Nigerian citizens of their rights to free speech and destroying same social media on whose power and influence the ruling power All Progressive Congress (APC) came to power in 2015. Nigeria Information Minister, Lai Muhammed has been at the center of the public criticism because he is suspected to be the brain behind the proposed act.
A “Stop the Social Media Bill! You can no longer take our rights from us” online petition campaign to force the Nigeria parliament to drop the bill recovered over 90,000 signatures within 24 hours. In November 2019, after the bill passed second reading in the senate, Akon Eyakenyi, a senator from Akwa Ibom State publicly said he would resist the bill.
Those who support the proposed act especially senators have often argued that the law would help curtail hate speech. President Muhammed Buhari who is seen as the biggest beneficiary of the influence and power of the social media and free speech that is now termed the hate speech has been mute about it. But the president’s senior aides and family members have publicly spoken in support of the bill. In November 2019, the wife of the president Aisha Buhari, told a gathering of the Nigeria’s National Mosque in the capital, Abuja that if China with over one billion people could regulate social media, Nigeria should do same. But Nigerians reacted saying that Nigeria is not a one-party communist state like China. Days later, Zahra Indimi told a gathering of young people in Abuja that social media had become a potent weapon for bullying those that were doing better than them in terms of social class and called for critical regularities
The so called Social Media bill is already receiving its biggest setback as it has been observed to contradict the Nigeria constitution in section 39(1) which encourages freedom of speech. The public hearing was an opportunity for citizens and rights groups to directly prevent the bill from becoming law. The bill seeks to give the Nigerian government regulatory control over conversations on social media platforms. Fake news, in the bill’s logic is the inevitable consequences of unregulated social media.
More reasons why the bill must not be passed; from the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), there was overwhelming consensus that most of the bill’s provisions were already captured in previous legislations like the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 and the Nation’s Panel Code. The NCC provides infrastructure for Internet Service Providers to operate. But it has no mandate to interfere with content or determine appropriateness, according to Umar Garba Danbatta, the organization’s executive vice chairman, who spoke in a criticism of the bill applauded by the audience.
Emphasizing that “certain provisions of the bill are difficult to implement”, he drew attention to an aspect highlighted by critics: the bill gives unconscionable power to the police to be judge & jury of proper internet content. “The bill is undefined and misleading”, said Sa’a Ibrahim, chairman of BON, reflecting the opinion of private sector broadcasters in Nigeria. Without mincing words, she declared the bill and its intention as “not necessary”.
Amongst other arguments, Musa sees the bill as a necessary defense against online harassment of minors and the improper dissemination of pornography. However, his point did not hold water with the audience to put it politely. Omoyele Sowore, founder of Sahara reporters, a digital media outfit, became the loudspeaker for a popular sentiment associated with the bill: that the protection from internet falsehoods is intended for the benefits of political leaders, not the general public. It is something false because the government does not like it or it is false because nobody wants to accept that it is true? Sowore asked rhetorically. The curious naming of the bill is a branding goal aimed at shielding the government from public criticism, he said.
The social media bill empowers the police to command internet shutdown, an “operationally dubious” feature according to Shamsudeen Yusuf a representative of the center for Democracy & Development, a democracy watchdog group. Samson Hodo, executive director of YIAGA, a governance advocacy group, described it as a “legislative overkill”
This bill is dead, “Sowore asserted, and it was the definition reflection of the mood in the hearing room. It would indeed be surprising, if anything else is ever heard of this social media bill after the hearing he said.
Therefore social media is not the main problem in Nigeria as the most important problems should be looked into such as bad governance of the people in authority, poor electricity supply, hunger, unemployment, bad road, unaccountable management of the public funds etc.
Stop Social Media bill today.