The Nigerian government continues to actively try to stifle public opinion. In a bill titled Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation, which has passed its second reading with an ostensible possibility of becoming law in no time, the Senate is pushing to regulate expressions towards governmental policies, actions, and shortcomings.
The bill which was recently gazetted states in section 1a) of its aims to “to prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and to enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission”.
Other clauses in the bill reflect worrisome statements like this. Statements that have been heavily opposed by Nigerians in regards to their ambiguity, malicious undertones, and unimportance, yet remain unheeded.
The bill, which is supported by Senator Muhammad Sani from APC representing Niger-East, if passed into law, will enable social media shutdowns if a speech is considered hateful and harmful to the government’s image and allow that people from who these comments come from be punished with fines and jail terms.
With the many levels of irregularities in the bill itself, something quite disturbing is the refusal of the Senate to listen to people’s unbridled opposition of it. This strong dismissal of unanimous public dissent, begs the question of who this bill primarily serves and how we can still claim proper representation if a law goes against popular opinion.
Senator Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North) who is also a strong ally to the bill in defence of its viability when it had just passed the first reading said in the Punch “I will not drop the bill. In the first instance I sponsored the bill of my own volition, Nobody asked me to do so. I did all my research and I have my strong my reasons for coming up with this.”
Passing this bill into law would not only set us back, but would further highlight the misplaced interests of our representatives at a time, where bills that will help reform pertinent social needs are barely given this same fervour and attention. Social media has become in its accessibility and wide-reaching functionalities, a tool for effective social and political conversation, easy dissemination of information and has helped to spark up interest in several unpalatable governmental activities.
Restricting people’s thoughts because there is no clear definition of what constitutes hate speech or how that actively affects the country, would have people shying away from expressing their thoughts on policies thus reducing public scrutiny. The Senate needs to listen to people’s thoughts on this bill, if it truly claims to have our interest at heart. If there is still any belief in a free and fair state, where people are allowed to criticise and disagree with authoritative actions that affect their daily existence.