Senate panel begins work on anti-social media bill next week

Oyetunji Abioye, Sunday Aborisade, Chukwudi Akasike, Adelani Adepegba, Ade Adesomoju, Ramon Oladimeji, Tobi Aworinde, Raphael Ede, Godwin Isenyo and John Charles

The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Friday said it would fix a date for a public hearing on the controversial Social Media Regulation Bill 2019 next week.

This is coming barely four days after the contentious bill passed second reading on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.

But, the Nigerian Bar Association and human rights lawyers, especially senior advocates of Nigeria, and sociopolitical groups on Friday vowed to storm the public hearing to present their views on the obnoxious bill.

However, the chairman of the Senate committee, Opeyemi Bamidele, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents on Friday said notice would be given to the relevant stakeholders because of the interests the bill had generated.

The bill seeks to make provisions for protection from Internet falsehood and manipulations and other related matters.

Popularly known as anti-social media bill, the legislation is being sponsored by the Senator representing Niger East District, Sani Musa.

Bamidele hinted that his panel would hold meetings with the sponsor of the bill, and the leadership of the National Assembly before convening the public hearing.

Only a former governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, spoke against the passage of the bill during the debate on its general principles.

Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah also raised a constitutional point of order to draw the Senate’s attention to the fact that the passage of the bill would be in conflict with certain provisions of the constitution.

However, senators Ibrahim Gobir, Elisha Abbo and Abba Moro, in their various contributions, supported the bill during the debate that lasted about 10 minutes.

The Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, put the passage of the bill for a second reading to a voice vote after confirming that no senator was ready to speak against it.

The majority of the lawmakers in the chamber unanimously voted in support of the bill and it was read the second time.

The senate president then referred the bill to the judiciary and human rights panel for further legislative action.

Bamidele told one of our correspondents that proper arrangement would be made by his panel to collate the views of the stakeholders and represent their views in his report.

He said, “Our committee would meet next week and fix a date for the public hearing.

“Because of the interest that the bill has generated by the public, it would be better that we give all stakeholders sufficient notice.

“We want an adequate representation of all stakeholders, particularly from the civil society.

“We will also, next week, discuss with the sponsor of the bill and the leadership of the National Assembly about the planned public hearing.

“We are going to give sufficient notice, we are not going to rush the process.”

The bill, if signed into law, among others prescribed a three-month jail term and a fine up to N10m for individuals or corporate firms that run afoul of its provisions.

NBA, SANs, Falana vow to attend public hearing

But the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), said on Friday that the NBA would attend the public hearing on the anti-social media bill.

Usoro said the association was making efforts to get a copy of the bill to study it and take a position.

He said, “We are looking for a copy of the bill so we can read and analyse it and once they call for a public hearing, we will be there.”

Falana also vowed to attend the public hearing on the bill.

“I am going to participate in the public hearing. We will appear to educate them on the matter,” he said.

Another SAN, Mr Seyi Sowemimo, said, “Anything that infringes on the freedom of speech is to be frowned upon. There are already laws in our statute books that take care of defamation, injurious falsehood, etc. To try to make it difficult for people to express themselves, I think the lawmakers should reconsider it.”

A former Vice-President of the NBA, Mr Monday Ubani, told Saturday PUNCH that the anti-social media bill was needless in the face of other existing laws, including the Cybercrime (Prohibition) Act.

Ubani advised the lawmakers to drop the bill, warning that it would portray Nigeria in a bad light on the global scene.

He said, “There is no value that the bill, if passed into law, would bring to Nigeria. Rather, it would take us down the drain as a democracy.

“The issue of freedom of expression is too fundamental a right and any state that wants to stifle it will not get any accolade from the international community; rather, they tend to suffer some level of blacklisting and deterioration.

“Already, we have enough laws that deal with the issue of regulation of social media. One is the Cybercrime Act. That law is comprehensive enough to deal with fake news and the like.”

Social media regulation, hate speech bills don’t work –Campbell

A former Ambassador of the United States to Nigeria, John Campbell, on Friday said he was sceptical about the bill seeking to regulate the social media space, adding that such a bill might not work.

In his response to enquiries by Saturday PUNCH on the anti-social media bill and the hate speech bill, Campbell said, “I do not know the details or the specific context of them. I am sceptical about bills that seek to regulate social media or contain hate speech.

“In general, such regulations do not work and they can be missed to restrict freedom of speech. Invoking the death penalty is appalling.”

Court to hear suit against social media bill Dec 2

Meanwhile, the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed December 2, 2019, for a hearing of the case filed against the enactment of the anti-social media bill.

A human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Mr Tope Akinyode, on November 12 filed an action in court against the proposed bill, which he claimed would encroach on the fundamental human rights of citizens to free speech if enacted.

The National Assembly, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Senate President were joined as respondents in the suit, marked FHC/L/CS/2037/19, before Justice Lema.

Akinyode asked the court for an order of perpetual injunction to restrain the respondents from embarking on further proceedings over the said bill.

“The bill is repressive and difficult to maintain without a brutal violation of the citizen’s right to free speech,” Akinyode added.

We’ll oppose anti-social media bill at public hearing – Ohanaeze, IYC, others

Sociopolitical groups, including Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Ijaw Youth Congress also on Friday condemned the bill in its entirety, vowing to attend the public hearing to oppose it.

The President, IYC, Mr Eric Omare, said the public hearing on the bill would serve as an opportunity for the group to reject it.

He said, “With it (public hearing), we would have the opportunity to attend and disapprove of the law.

“I do not support the attempt to regulate social media by the Nigerian parliament because if that is done, it will only succeed in suppressing the ability of Nigerians to express themselves.”

The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, also said the Igbo apex body was against any bill that gagged the freedom of expression of Nigerians.

He said, “It was a former President of America, Thomas Jefferson, who said if he was to choose between a government without the press and a press without government, he would go for a press without government.

“So, the idea of trying to gag the people through the social media bill is outrageous. It is illegal and unobtainable anywhere in the world. The freedom of the press is the freedom of the world.”

Also, PANDEF Secretary-General, Dr Alfred Mulade, said the Niger Delta political pressure group would attend the public hearing and would not support any law that did not promote development, peace, stability and dignity of human existence.

Senate would destroy itself if it passes bill, Afenifere warns

Although the Afenifere said it would not appear at the public hearing, it insisted that the proposed law was meant to “cow the society into submission, remove Nigeria from the list of open society and drag us back to the Stone Age.”

“We would never dignify them (NASS) with such an opportunity (of attending the hearing). Let them go ahead and pass the law. What hearing? You want us to dignify them with our presence there? It’s beneath us,” Yinka Odumakin, the group’s National Publicity Secretary, said.

He challenged the Senate to go ahead and pass the bill, stating that the upper chamber would destroy itself if it did so.

“This Senate is about to destroy itself if it goes ahead with this cruel, obnoxious and wicked bill which is meant to crystallise dictatorship and censorship of opinion in Nigeria,” he said.

Odumakin said many leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress would have been hung had the law on social media regulation been in existence in 2014.

But the President General, Tiv Youth Organisation Worldwide, Timothy Hembaor, on Friday declared support for the bill to regulate social media.

Hembaor said he would gladly mobilise the Tiv youth in Benue State to attend and support the bill when the call for its public hearings was due.

Youths phone, e-mail senators over social media bill

Meanwhile, several Nigerian youths have made telephone calls and sent text messages and e-mails to their senators in protest against the much-debated social media bill.

A Twitter user with the handle, @VillageParrot, took to the social media platform on Friday, calling on Nigerians to contact their senators over the bill, with “#SayNoToSocialMediaBill” trending number one on Twitter as of Friday evening.

In a series of tweets, which included the contact information of most senators, the user said, “Below are the contact details of the 109 senators. Don’t just retweet, but also take action. Send an email! Send text messages! Call them! Tell your friends and families to do the same! Talk to your senators!”

As of 6.45 pm when this report was filed, the post had been retweeted over 7,710 times with 261 comments, some of which described the bill as “undemocratic.”

One user, @Alvinuzor, said, “I just called the senator representing my district – Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. My call was ‘busied’. Well, I trust him on this one. I’m sure he is against this bill.”

@Bkaybubu said, “I just called Senator Mustapha representing Ogun State. I heard him telling someone ‘bami ka owo yi…’ (help me count this money). I wanted the money too, but I told him social media is our safe haven!”

Another Twitter user, Ayoade Damilare, said, “(I) just reached out to (the) senator representing Oyo Central. He responded well, only if we youths or (the) electorate, in general, know our rights, we would get there one day.”

Meanwhile, @AEjodamen said, “My senator is not picking (up).”

@A_Obimma stated, “(I) just spoke to Senator Ifeanyi Ubah of @YPPNational. (I) confirmed he is not in support of the bills and he is on the side of no to both bills.”

@lagosbelz said, “I just called Senator A Yisa from Kwara State. He said senators would not support it and he personally didn’t support it. Some of them are responding, please let’s keep calling.”

The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, has asked Nigerians to fight the Social Media Regulation Bill with all their energy, saying the bill is “redundant, stale, superfluous and a fraud.”

In a piece made available to Saturday PUNCH on Thursday, Kukah explained that a people who suffered poor governance would use different avenues to express their frustration, which he said had made everyone victims of hate speech.

He added, “The greatest expression of hate is those who use the power in their hands to divide us by favouring or excluding others based on religion, gender, political affiliation or social class.

“Surely, unscrupulous and immoral theft of humungous resources belonging to all of us by our politicians is more damaging to our society than any hate speech. The government has all the laws it needs to fight any form of crime and individuals can fall back on it.

“This bill is redundant, stale, superfluous and a fraud. We must fight it with all our energy. It is rotten yoghurt being marketed beyond its expiration date. We should reject it as a totalitarian attempt to circumscribe our hard-earned freedom.”

Copyright PUNCH.

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