The internet is easily the largest platform of which humans communicate and disseminate information. People of different nations, race and religion make use of the internet for a variety of reasons, from communication, to research, trading, business and a lot more.
Nigeria is currently ranked as the country with the highest number of internet users in Africa with statistics suggesting that the country possesses almost 120 million citizens that have access to the internet through mobile or web.
Nigerians also stand out when it comes to social media usage as an average Nigerian is 95% likely to have at least a social media profile. Like most people around the world, social media is used by Nigerians to stay updated on the latest news, trends as well as staying connected with their community.
In 2015, the Nigerian government introduced a bill concerning social media usage in the country which was not received well by the public as Nigerians strongly went against the idea since they believed that it negatively impacts citizen’s fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.
Whispers of the bill making a return sufficed around mid 2018 with a more specified motive but it still wasn’t given much attention.
On Tuesday, November 5, the Nigerian senate officially reintroduced the bill in its first reading at the National assembly with the aim of regulating the use of Social Media in Nigeria titled “Protection from internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other related matters bill 2019.”
Senator Muhammed Sani Musa of the Niger State East Senatorial district, who is the frontman of the legislation, said that the bill was aimed at “curbing fake news on the internet”.
The bill received backing from a couple of politicians but have been criticized strongly by others and also a majority of the country’s Citizens.
The bill was read for a second time on November 20th and it was clear that its reception in the House wasn’t very strong as quite a number of politicians present went against it claiming it poses negative effects on democracy.
What are the key contents of the bill?
The bill is aimed at restricting certain actions by Nigerians on the internet and it basically states that a person must not transmit false statements by any means or transmit any statement on sensitive topics like Nigeria’s relationship with other countries, security of any part of the country, public health and finance, outcome of elections and also statements that could cause enmity or hatred towards a person or group of persons.
The sanctions for a guilty party was also stated in the bill which stipulates a fine of not more than 300,000 naira or 3 years imprisonment or both for individuals; while for a corporate organisation a fine of not more than 10 million Naira.
Allegations have been placed on the Nigerian government stating that the bill was plagiarized as it is very similar to that of the Singapore parliament released in July. However, Sen. Muhammed Sani took to social media to write it off.
Effect of the bill?
The bill could be a good thing for the country but it is very unlikely that would be the case. It could reduce the amount of falsehood and cyberbullying on the internet but the problem of the situation is if it will be properly enforced.
Key terms like “falsehood”, “manipulation”, “truth” may be relative and the fact that the law enforcement agencies will be given the right to arrest anyone that breaks the rule could lead to chaos if not properly interpreted.
This will not be a good thing for bloggers, marketers and journalists who need to be at total freedom to deliver quality contents.
Reactions to the bill.
Nigerians are not in support of the bill and it is very clear. Citizens have used social media to kick against the idea most popularly with the hashtag #NoToSocialMediaBill.
Aside the internet criticism, Nigerians have also come out to protest and condemn the move, finding every way possible to put pressure on lawmakers to boycott the bill. A petition online condemning the bill has also been raised and it has gathered over 75000 signatures.
We will continue to follow up the advancement of the bill although it seems very unlikely that it will successfully be signed as the people of the democratic nation are seriously against it.