The protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019” popularly known as “The Social Media bill” or “Anti-Social Media Bill” is one that has raised a lot of dust in Nigeria. The bill has seen many Nigerians questioning its provision and its effect on the voice of the common Nigerian man. Part 2 of this bill known as Production of Transmission of False Statement of Facts, SubClause(1) of SubClause(3) states that “A person must not do any act in or outside Nigeria in order to transmit in Nigeria a statement knowing or having reasons to believe that: It is a false statement and the transmission of the statement in Nigeria is likely to: be prejudicial to the security of Nigeria or any part of Nigeria; be prejudicial to public health, public safety, public tranquility and public finance; be prejudicial to the friend relations of Nigeria with other countries; influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election or a referendum; invited feelings of enmity, hatred directed to a person or ill-will between different groups of persons or diminishes public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of, or in the exercise of any power by the Government.
” This section of the Social Media Bill has drawn a lot of attention and views about what the Social media bill wants to achieve. The question most Nigerians are asking is,”What exactly is the Social Media bill about?”, “What problem or challenge is this bill trying to tackle” “Is there really any need for a Social media bill in Nigeria?” The Social Media Bill was first introduced on the 5th of November, 2019 by the Senate of The Federal Republic of Nigeria. The bill was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa of the Niger East Senatorial District and firmly backed by some other senators like Senator Elisha Abbo of Adamawa, North Senatorial District.
The bill has since passed second reading on November 20th, 2019. The Social Media bill of 2019 is said to prevent false and prejudiced statements from getting spread across the internet but is there need for that at the moment? The Social Media Bill has little need in Nigeria right now. There are countries where bills will be proposed to curb false news and misinformation and would have no difficulty being viewed as a good one for the populace. Nigeria sadly however, is not that country. There are many reasons why there is little or no need for a “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations and other related matter bill” in Nigeria at this time.
Some of these reasons are; Corruption, Democratic Militarism, Reduced access to information, Ambiguity of the bill, Uniqueness and Plagiarisation, Popular Support, Nigeria challenges amongst others. All these are grounds which will be discussed as demerits to show that Nigeria has no need for the Social Media bill at this time. Ambiguity of the Social Media Bill is one of the major reasons Nigerians should not be forced to swallow the bill. The Social Media bill lacks clarity and this could be twisted to serve the purpose of those in public services. A good look at this bill will show one that a lot of Ts needs to be crossed and Is dotted.
The Social media bill is ambiguous in that it clamours against false statements but does not once express what false statement means in that context. We all know that Truth and falsehood have relative meanings. It can therefore be used by politicians and those in public office to make the general populace bend to them. SubClause(iv) of SubClause(b) of SubClause(3) of Part two of this bill states under the transmission of false statement of fact that “A person must not do any act in or outside Nigeria in order to transmit in Nigeria a statement knowing or having reasons to believe that: It is a false statement and the transmission of the statement is likely to influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election or a referendum.” One is forced to ask himself, Is it that Campaigning before an election is hereby prohibited or does this Clause of the social media bill mean something different from what it is clearly stating? Also, SubClause(5) of SubClause(8) of part three of the bill states that “A person who transmitted a false declaration of fact in Nigeria may be issued a Stop Transmission Regulation even if the person does not know or have reasons to believe that the declaration is false.
” This means that I might be transmitting the truth like I see it to be but if the Law Enforcement Department does not see reasons with me, I might be issued a Stop Transmission Regulation. These are two out of the many unclear clauses that are contained in this bill. If a lot of questions and confusion arises from a bill, is it not proper to clear this doubt and straighten the paper before putting it out for consideration? This bill, the social media bill is a house that is not in order.
When it is in order, it can then be brought forward to the altar “Nigeria” Democratic Militarism is a situation whereby a State that practices Democratic rule is said to have some speck of military characteristics in its governance. This means that there is reduced access to basic human rights by citizens and there is increased dictatorship by the government. Democratic Militarism can be seen clearly in the social media bill.
A close look at this bill and its provisions would show one that one of its effects amongst other things is abating the voice of citizens thereby taking their rights to freedom of Speech and expression away from them. The people’s voice acts as a check to government activities and politics, if this bill is passed into Law, it will give the Government power over what Nigerians are allowed to talk about thereby, taking the people’s power to check the government away.
It will put the common Nigerian in fear as people will not want to serve jail terms for even a small period of time or even part with the large sum that will serve as bail. This further means that the government can through this bill, shut the mouth of Nigerians over issues that need the voice of the people. In fact, this bill is a military tactic to have a dictatorial government in a civilian state. Seun Bakare, Programmes Manager, Amnesty International, Nigeria puts this rightly when he said “Social media is one of the last remaining places where Nigerians can express their opinions freely.
The harassment of journalists and bloggers and the introduction of the Cyber Crimes Act have already shrunk the civic space and created a climate of fear,” The question is, if the social media is stifled with government excesses, what will happen to the expression of Nigerians right to freedom of speech and expression? There is absolutely nothing wrong with curbing misinformation but do not try to get the people to shut up under the guise of a cry to stop false statement saga. The Protection from Internet falsehood and Manipulations and other related matter bill 2019 is one that will bring about reduced access to Information.
There is already reduction in the access Nigerians have to information in recent times because of the Cybercrimes Law and other factors. The Social Media Bill will further reduce the access Nigerians have to Information. This is because this bill affects On Air Personalities (OAPs), Website hosts, Bloggers, YouTube Channels, Social Media Influencers, Internet Service Providers, Journalists, Radio/ TV Stations, Online/Print newspapers and even the ordinary Social Media users. According to Part 2 of this bill, subClause(2), punishment includes the sum of 300 thousand Naira or Impression for a term of three years or both for individuals and in other cases, a fine not exceeding 10 million naira.
This alone can scare anyone and organisations into sieving information before making them accessible to Nigerians so as not to incur losses. That translates to a reduced access to information. This bill also gives Law enforcement departments the power to arrest all those who are found guilty. Individuals and organisations running businesses or any other function in Nigeria already have a lot on their plate and do not need an arrest to add to the list. It will therefore weaken their resolve to present raw information to the public as they do not know if that could be used against them.
The challenges we face as a Country is yet another factor to consider as to why we do not need a Social Media Bill. The sponsor of this bill, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa must have good intentions when putting this idea to curb social media excesses together but the big question is, Does Nigeria not have more than enough on her plate already? How well are we tackling the various challenges on ground? We know that there is terrorism, insecurity, lack of jobs, Economic instability, drop in Naira value, drop in oil prices in the international market amongst other things and now, there is COVID-19 pandemic to deal with. How well are we dealing with all of these problems? Is it not right that we clear out some part of our plate before putting more food in? We need to focus on all these and look for ways to combat them.
We need to draft policies that can handle a huge chunk of the problems faced by Nigerians. If we cannot win the war against terrorism and the various killings by herdsmen, how do we even intend to win against false information on Social media that serves billions of people? Recently, Nigeria was ranked 148th out of 163 countries on the Global Peace Index- (GPI) 2019 and was placed among the five least peaceful countries in Sub-Saharan Africa along with violence ridden countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. We need to be looking into issues like these and thinking of ways to make our country more peaceful and secure so that the common man can thrive in it before we face other things like the Social Media.
Furthermore, the Uniqueness of the Social Media Bill is to be considered. Before a public policy or a bill should be drawn up, there must be a need that a public officer is trying to meet. We are told by Senator Musa Sani that this piece of legislation only seeks to check the spread of fake news and falsehood but further research shows that a large percentage of the Social Media Bill was plagiarised from a similar bill in singapore. Plagiarising a bill defeats the effort that Senator Musa Sani is putting into curbing false information. This is because the bill is not unique to the Nigeria people.
How do you know that this bill is not creating more problems if proper research and data collation was not done before drafting the bill? Also, Singapore from which the Social Media Bill was plagiarised ranks 151 in the World Press Freedom Index while Nigeria currently ranks 120. Why Copy a bill from a country which we are better than in terms of press freedom? This will only take us down the ladder in yet another ranking. Discussed above are several reasons the social media bill is not needed in Nigeria. These include: Ambiguity, Democratic Militarism, Reduced access to Information, The challenges faced by Nigeria as a country, The Consideration of the uniqueness of this bill. Public disapproval of the bill, Corruption and the financial situation of the country are other reasons to consider.
These reasons are really critical issues to consider as to the Social Media Bill. No one doubts the good this bill is trying to bring but it is clear that the demerits of this bill outweigh the merit. Similar bill was introduced in 2015 known as “Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition) Bill 2015 but did not get passed into law because of the aforementioned reasons and more. There is no reason why it should come up again with a different name this time if it was rejected already. Therefore, the protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 should not be passed into Law.
•Jessica Ajuonuma is a member of the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON)