SOCIAL MEDIA BILL AND CITIZENS’ RIGHTS
Last week, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed disclosed the federal government’s plan to inject ‘sanity’ into the nation’s Social Media space. Following this disclosure, the Nigerian Senate on Tuesday came up with a bill with the same intention titled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, 2019’. The bill has already passed first reading on the floor of the upper legislative chamber.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Musa Muhammad (APC, Niger East), coming speedily on the heels of the Information Minister’s disposition towards the same trajectory suggests a collaborative gang up by arms of government in providing a legal conduit to gag the people. This is more assertive, considering the fact that the regulation is not only targeted at media practitioners, but the entire “citizens” of the country. This is a lethal trajectory for a democracy not ripe enough to leave its nest.
Talks on regulating the social media are not new in the country. During former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the Senate introduced the ‘Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith’. The bill, popularly known as the ‘Anti-Social Media Law’ spelt out jail term and huge fines for individuals who share abusive contents online. The bill later collapsed like a pack of cards due to its widespread rejection.
For close to a decade, regulating the social media in every attempt has failed to curry support, not because stakeholders despise sanity, but because such move in our political atmosphere may become liability to participatory expression.
I have always seen our democracy as a fledgling one, one where consequences are prioritised in favour of those who call the shots, and where rights are trampled upon recklessly. The concern therefore is not about the regulation itself, but its misuse by these contemptuous powers that be and overzealous state institutions. Sadly, Nigeria’s democracy is not an enviable example of rights’ protection in accordance with stipulated regulations.
It is true that social media – unregulated – is driving some people over the edge, but it is also true that it has positively altered the cause of democracy in Nigeria, being instrumental in contributing to change of government 2015, amplification of public discourse, public service accountability, citizens’ right to criticize unpopular government policies, to mention a few. We cannot afford to sacrifice these pros on the altar of the above cons. Alternatively, government should rather form alliance with established online publishers in working towards emphasizing investigative journalism, counter narratives and journalistic code of ethics in their reports.
In any case, government should understand that freedom of expression is not just a phrase, it is the citizen’s right in a democratic dispensation, and, the social media provides the channel to enjoy this right.
Mohammed Dahiru Lawal, PRNigeria Center, Kano