#SayNoToSocialMediaBill: Why we must resist moves to stifle voices

The #EndSARS campaign – a protest like non-other in the history of Nigeria; has reawakened Nigerian politicians’ attempts to censor social media, and the proposed social media bill is already becoming a reality.

No doubt arguing that social media played a big role in the success of the protest, serving as the launch-pad and the main source of communication for the protesters.

But, the unexpected success of the protest did not sit well with the powers that be because it garnered global support and highlighted several ways citizens face oppression in the hands of the ruling class. Hence, their latest attempt to resurrect two existing bill proposals: the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill” and the “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill.”

In response to the move, Nigerians have launched a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag, #Saynotothesocialmediabill to protest the bill, as the proposed bill infringes on free speech, among other concerns.

Here are some of the reasons why we should be concerned about the social media bill 

1. The social media bill, officially titled Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019; seeks to prohibit ‘…statements on social media deemed “likely to be prejudicial to national security” and “those which may diminish public confidence” in Nigeria’s government. It proposes these offences be punishable by a fine, a prison sentence of three years, or both.’ – Human Rights Watch.

What this means is that one could land in jail, pay a fine of N300,000 or be compelled to do both for simply expressing their reservations or questioning government policies on social media. What then becomes of free speech?

2. “The bill also seeks to allow law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable internet access” at will. 

One can imagine what it would feel like to be cut off from the rest of the world in an age when virtual reality is almost as important as reality itself. We might well be going back to the stone-age and start living as cave-men so as not to question government policies.

3. Another thing we should be concerned about is the people sponsoring the bill. Mohammed Sani Musa, a senator of the All Progressives Congress (APC), representing the Niger East Senatorial District of Niger State proposed the bill under the guise of “the need to thwart the influence of foreign ideologies.” Meanwhile, the true intent of the bill is as clear as day.

Another staunch supporter of the bill is Elisha Abbo; a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and lawmaker, representing Adamawa-North senatorial district. Abbo had been caught on tape in 2019 assaulting a woman in a sex toy shop in Abuja – an incident which caused an uproar among Nigerians.

These and several other reasons are legitimate concerns over the proposed social media bill. Nigerians will do well to continue pushing the #Saynotothesocialmediabill until the repressive bill is dismissed for good.

Attempts by the government to regulate social media date back to December 2015 with the proposal of a “frivolous petitions” bill which prescribed jail time and a NGN3820000 fine for social media posts found to be in contravention of the proposed law. But, the bill was withdrawn six months later in the face of widespread public criticism.

What Nigerians are already saying:

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