In this digital age, the internet (Social Media) has proven to be beneficial to all of us. Many times, it has helped to alleviate our stress, expose us to vast knowledge, enable us foster amazing bonds and create networks with people we may never had met, outside social media. Better still, it has provided platforms where we can freely talk about issues that affect us and the community we belong to. Social media amplifies our voices to reach a wider range of audience, thus ensuring a quicker response to our problems. We’ve seen this countless times— The Lagos Market March, End Sars Movement, The Sex For Grades Documentary, The attempt to increase the Licensing Fees for Logistics Companies — to name a few. Social Media has helped to create the necessary awareness on these issues. Amazing, right? I know.
Now, imagine a Nigeria where our right to free speech is curtailed. Where the Nigerian Government has a monopoly on the truth. This basically sums up the The Anti-Social Media Bill. The bad news is (yes, there’s news already worse than the existence of this tyrannical bill), the Anti-Social Media Bill has passed its second reading since 2019. If it becomes law, our constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of press will be stifled.
The government of the eight military regimes and four republics that Nigeria has had, have one thing in common— blatant incompetence and gross disregard for the lives of their citizens. Their behavior has bred a high level of distrust within us, and has forced us to take matters into our own hands. With the help of the media—newspapers, tv channels and now the internet— Nigerians have made efforts to resist them.
Incredibly bad roads, poor electricity, schools perpetually on strike, embezzlement of public funds, yet the pressing issue on hand for the Nigerian Government is to regulate online conversations, then enforce punitive measures against people who are in breach of these regulations? Disappointed but not surprised.
What exactly is The Anti-Social Media Bill?
On Tuesday, November 5th 2019, the Bill had it’s first reading at the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is officially titled “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019″. The idea behind it is to curb the spread of false, fake and malicious news in Nigeria. Nicely packaged right? I promise you it is the Pandora’s box.
Key provisions of this Bill include, but are not limited too:
- Prevent the transmission of false statements in Nigeria.
- End the financing of online mediums that transmit false statements.
- Detect and control inauthentic behavior and misuse of online accounts (parody accounts).
- When paid content is posted towards a political end, enforce measures to ensure the poster discloses such information.
Notably, the bill stipulates that a person must not make any statement that may:
- Affect the security of any part of Nigeria.
- Affect public health, public safety, or public finance.
- Affect Nigeria’s relationship with other countries.
- Influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election.
- Cause enmity or hatred towards a person or group of persons.
Can you imagine how these people are trying to escape accountability for their terrible governance?
If you are found guilty of any of the above, you will be sanctioned. The bill has that sorted out—fines, imprisonments, the indignity of being forced to retract your statement through a specified medium and blocking of your access to the internet (with a fat juicy fine for your Internet Service Provider if they do not comply).
This Bill is a similar copy of a law in Singapore, a country that is at the bottom of global ranking in the freedom of speech and of the press:
It is the unoriginality for me. The major content of the Bill is similar with a bill passed in Singapore earlier in May 2019. The only difference is that while the Singaporean bill defines terms explicitly, the Nigerian Bill disturbingly leaves a lot of terms unclear. The Social Media Bill is the gift that keeps on giving. In the interpretation section, the Law Enforcement Department that is bestowed the unconscionable power to apprehend, order corrective or punitive measures against those ‘found guilty’ is The Nigerian Police. The same Nigerian Police that decided to stop working in some areas during the period of End Sars Protests. They basically said, “We won’t come to work because you guys said we should stop killing you oh”. The same Nigerian Police that will not let you pass if you don’t give them 50 Naira.
Are we not finished like this?
The Copy Cat who sponsored the Bill and His Sidekicks:
The Bill was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa of the Niger State East Senatorial District. Apparently it was received with approval from a lot of Senators including (surprise surprise surprise) Senator Elisha Abbo, a man who received backlash when a video of him assaulting a woman in a sex-toy store surfaced on the internet. Are you asking why he still has his job? Isn’t this the same Nigeria where the current Governor of Kano State was caught on video receiving vast wads of American dollars as some sort of bribe payment and nothing happened? The same Nigeria where the Head of NDDC ‘fainted’ during a hearing where he was meant to account for some missing funds and he is still in charge of the commission? Is it today?
On a brighter note, not all our representatives are comedic. Chimaroke Nnamani is reportedly the only Senator to oppose the bill. There is hope that the Bill which is almost at its Third reading, will not be passed. It has received strong opposition from Nigerian youths, Civil Service Organizations, Human Rights Organizations, National Union of Journalists and a host of other bodies.
Why The Social Media Bill Will Put Nigerians In Hot Peppersoup:
It is pertinent I apologize for the title above because by writing the sub-heading above, I imply that prior to the existence of the Bill, we were never in hot peppersoup. This is factually wrong.
If this Bill is passed into Law, every Nigerian, that includes me and you, will have to be cautious whenever we speak about our government online. It grants legitimate power to the police to arrest those who they believe are guilty of spreading false/malicious information online. This Bill will benefit and safeguard our oppressors and then the populace will be left to deal with the detrimental effects.
A democracy cannot exist without freedom of the press. The bigger picture poses a crucial question: Curbing fake news can be advantageous but who really should be charged with the responsibility of determining what is the truth, false and malicious statements?
These things are subjective and neither our dishonest government nor rogue police force can be trusted to be the determiner. We do not need to look far into history to understand why: The End Sars Movement which unfortunately led to the Lekki Massacre on the 20th of October, 2020, displayed the lengths at which our government will go through to manipulate facts. The Nigerian Army denied what thousands of Nigerians witnessed on an Instagram Live Video. An Ex- Governor of Lagos State conveniently discovered a camcorder at the crime scene of the killings which had supposedly been thoroughly cleaned by forensic experts. Our current President, in the speech we had to bully him to make, blatantly refused to acknowledge the lives lost on that dreadful day – Several attempts to erase a vital part of our history. And the fact that it is something most of us personally witnessed? It makes you wonder, what else? What else in our history have our leaders rewritten or worse, terrifyingly obliterated?
This Anti Social Media Bill was never about regulating false news. It is meant to create a legitimate avenue where the government will punish people for clamoring that they be accountable for their actions, where we will be punished for criticizing them.
What you can do to help:
It is very easy for Nigeria to make you feel helpless, but I am here to remind you that the power ultimately lies in your voice, something our leaders are desperately trying to take away.
- Email, text or call your senators : Contacts Details Of The 109 Nigerian Senators
- Alert Human Rights Organizations
- Sign Legitimate Petitions like Stop The Social Media Bill! You Can No Longer Take Our Rights From Us
- Organize or participate in peaceful protests against The Bill.
These past few weeks as a Nigerian youth has emboldened me in so many ways I never expected. Our government has failed our generation and as useless as this statement might be, we actually are the leaders of tomorrow, and it is something we should have taken seriously yesterday.
So continue doing your own part for the betterment of this country. Donate when you can even though our government is using our money to fund their slay queen lifestyles.
Write that satire. Tweet that criticism. Publish that article. Send that WhatsApp BC. Send “You up?” texts and emails to your representatives at the National Assembly. Join that (peaceful) protest. Exercise your constitutional right to recall. Get your PVCs and Vote Vote Vote. I am tempted to advice you to work towards obtaining a visa even if it means signing up to 90 Days Fiancé, but I have hope.
Soro Soke my people, because if you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.