For the past few weeks, the social media bill, titled; ‘Protection from internet falsehood and manipulations bill’ as sponsored by Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, representing Niger East Senatorial District has been a subject of discourse. ALAO ABIODUN writes
The controversial social media bill has generated heated debate since it scaled second reading on the floor of the red chamber and so many top Nigerians especially those who are perceived as top personalities in the society have expressed their stands on the issue.
There are two sides to the coin in this proposed bid to regulate the social media — While we have those who have thrown their weight in support of the bill, we also have those have condemned the bill and have come against the bill publicly.
Those in support of the bill are of the opinion that it is necessary to curb and stem the tide of fake news which is doing more harm than good to the country.
While on the other hand, those against the bill have stated that the passage of the bill into law will give room for dictatorial tendencies from the government and also a sort of crackdown on dissidents who air their views or opinions through these media.
THOSE IN SUPPORT OF THE BILL
Mrs Aisha Buhari
Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari is one of the top Nigerian personalities who have called for the regulation of social media.
Aisha while speaking at the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs General Assembly and National Executive Council Meeting in Abuja on Friday, November 29, 2019, the wife of the President urged the Federal Government to regulate social media like Chinese government did to its 1.3 billion citizens.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has been on the front burner of this campaign with respect to social media regulation. Few weeks back, He announced the federal government’s plan to inject ‘sanity’ into the nation’s social media space.
Lai Mohammed declared that no amount of criticism would deter the government from going ahead with the proposed measure.
He also insisted it was the right thing to do as Nigeria was not alone in this regard.
Senator Elisha Abbo
Senator Elisha Abbo who is representing Adamawa North under the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, has also thrown his weight behind the bill to regulate social media in Nigeria.
During deliberations on the bill, Abbo said the issue of fake news in the country needs urgent attention.
“The issue of fake news in this country, if it’s not regulated is a cancer waiting to consume all of us. Even conventional media that are regulated are suffering from falsehood.
Few months back, Senator Abbo was the subject of a social media storm after a video of him physically assaulting a woman at a sex toy shop surfaced on the internet.
Veteran broadcaster and Chairman of Biscon Communications, Mr Bisi Olatilo, has expressed his support for the planned regulation of the social media by the Federal Government, this was made known during an interview with PUNCH Newspaper.
Olatilo, who called for caution among journalists in the dissemination of information, explained that regulation was necessary to promote moderation in the use of the social media in Nigeria.
Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, has broken his silence on the controversial social media bill. He maintained that everyone’s activities must be checked on social media.
In a series of tweets on Monday, December 2, 2019, Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), lamented that critics cannot differentiate the Social media bill from the hate speech bill.
While maintaining that no reasonable person will support death sentence for hate speech, Keyamo maintained that it is not proper for individuals to come online to say something totally untrue that can put other lives in danger without some kind of penal consequence.
Senator Abba Moro
Abba Moro who is with the PDP, is the senator representing Benue South district, northcentral Nigeria has publicly shown his support for the regulation of social media.
On March 15, 2014, Moro, as minister of interior, was responsible for the Nigerian Immigration Recruitment tragedy in which about 6 million Nigerian youths who applied for 4,000 vacant positions in Nigerian Immigration Service were forced to assemble in various recruitment locations in the country
THOSE AGAINST THE BILL
Bishop Matthew Kukah
The Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Kukah cautioned the Federal Government against planned regulation of social media saying it could hinder freedom of speech.
He however stressed that the freedom to speak must be done responsibly, asked government to be careful on the planned regulation of the social media.
He added that the social media was an avenue for Nigerians to bear their minds and feelings about happenings in the country.
Senator Chimaroke Nnamani
Senator Chimaroke Nnamani representing Enugu East under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party, condemned the bill in its totality.
“Based on our constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, there is a cyber-crime act that deals with this,” he said.
He further said, “The bill is not an attempt to stifle free speech or dissenting views; it is rather an opportunity to address a growing threat which, if left unchecked, can cause serious damage in our polity and disrupt peaceful coexistence.”
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN)
The former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), in his contribution to the debate urged the National Assembly to withdraw the bill, saying it violates the principles of fundamental human rights and tantamount to pursuing a policy that is self-serving .
Olanipekun, who expressed disappointment that such bill could emanate from the National Assembly, warned that the bill will create bad blood and disunity among Nigerians if passed and assented to by the president.
He urged the federal lawmakers to focus attention on sponsoring bills that would cushion the effects of insecurity, poor education, hardship and bad roads that plague the nation, and shun retrogressive bills.
Chief Olusegun Osoba
A former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba asked journalists and media professionals to intensify advocacy against the controversial social media and hate speech bills before the National Assembly.
Osoba, who spoke in Abeokuta at a public lecture organised to mark 160 years of journalism in Nigeria, criticized Senators over the pending bills, wondering where they were when journalists were fighting for enthronement of democracy.
Senator Shehu Sani
The Senator, who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly, Shehu Sani, also said the social media bill in the red chamber was a threat to the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Sani, who is now the Executive Director, African Centre for Peace and Development wondered why the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which got to power in 2015 largely due to social media support, was now trying to gag their activities.
He said, “The Bill on the regulation of social media poses a serious threat and danger to freedom of speech and expression.”
Senator Akon Eyakenyi
Senator Akon Eyakenyi, a senator from Akwa Ibom State described the two controversial bills – Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill and Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill – as threat to the freedom of expression of the Nigerian people.
However, the Senate President Ahmad Lawan, referred the bill to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. The committee will report back to the red chamber within four weeks.