Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Protesters Storm National Assembly Against the Social Media Bill


The proposed social media bill by The Senate on Frivolous Petitions, which passed second reading, if enacted, will subject violators to between two and four years imprisonment.

Although, many do not know the weight of the bill, there have been reactions to the bill after it was subsequently passed to the relevant committee for consideration and to report back to the Senate within three weeks.

Nation reports that on Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari promised not to assent to any legislation that might be inconsistent with the constitution.

The President said this through his Senior Special on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, saying that he has sworn to defend the constitution and would not lend his hand to anything that was inconsistent with the document.

“But he is not averse to lawful regulation, so long as that is done within the ambit of the constitution, which he swore to uphold,” he said.

Shehu added that the President said free speech was central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Without free speech, the president explained that elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues.

According ‘As a key component of democratic principles,’ the president acknowledged that people in democratic societies ‘are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might’.

“Because the Senate is a democratic Senate, the President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria,” he added.

Following the controversy over the bill, Social media lovers on Tuesday stormed the National Assembly to say no to the proposed bill.

The protesters, who gathered at the Unity Fountain Maitama Abuja, are calling on the Upper chamber ‘to immediately discontinue with the said bill as proposed by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah from Kebbi State.


The bill suggests four years imprisonment or payment of between N2m and N4m fine for intentionally propagating false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message.

Similarly, it suggests up to two years jail term or N2m N4m fine or both for anyone disseminating via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other form of social media an “abusive statement”.

This also involves messages intending to “set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law.”

The Direct Conflict of this Bill with Section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as Amended in 2011 which states, “Every Person shall be entitled to Freedom of Expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

It is also noteworthy that there has been a spirited effort to justify this repressive and unconstitutional action of the Senate but it does not suffice in line with the commitment seen from the senate and its senators from both parties actively arguing positively for the necessity of such a bill.

The question that these protesters are seeking answer to is: “Who are they (the senate) afraid of?”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have distanced themselves from such move, urging the Senate to unconditionally suspend proceedings on the bill.

In a statement, GarbaDeen Muhammad, President of NGE said that the broad objective of the bill was to outlaw the freedom of expression of the citizens and freedom of speech of media organisations operating in print, electronic and on-line platforms.

The statement reads in part: “Appallingly, the bill has also included as its target very personal and private means of communication such as SMS or text messages and WhatsApp, among others.

“The freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in section 22 and 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution respectively. Therefore, to enact any kind of law under any guise that will contradict these fundamental provisions is to deliberately seek to undermine the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We are, therefore, concerned that a group of persons elected by Nigerians to ensure that their rights, privileges and interests are protected, should gleefully misuse the mandate given to them to the detriment of the same people that elected them,” Mohammad observed.

Also, National President of NUJ Waheed Odusile, speaking at a lecture in Ibadan, Oyo state, vowed that the media would not allow the bill to see the light of the day.

Odusile said what the proponents of the controversial bill were trying to do was to bring back the Decree 4 of 1983 to satisfy their selfish interests, adding that “it is a law targeted at restricting freedom of expression”.

Imploring NUJ state councils to submit petitions at their respective state assemblies, he said the union would mobilise its members to the National Assembly to stop the bill whenever it is presented for public hearing.

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