THE Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has criticized the proposed Social Media Bill which despite public outcry has passed second reading as having an underlying objective to silence critical voices of Nigerians.
Senator Bali Abdullahi, Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate had proposed the bill which according to him is a means to curb ‘fake news’ that has been the genesis of most of the conflicts in Nigeria.
In a statement sent to The ICIR on Wednesday, CDD Director, Idayat Hassan noted that the bill is an attempt to use the legislative process to muzzle freedom of expression.
Hassan made particularly expressed dissatisfaction at the Part three Clause 13, Sub-clause (two) of the bill which read that ‘no appeal may be made to the High Court by any person unless the person has first applied to the Law Enforcement Department to vary or cancel the Part 3 Regulations and the Law Enforcement Department refused the application whether in whole or in part’.
Speaking on the population of Nigerians that uses the internet, the CDD director said the Global State of Digital 2019 report revealed that 98.39 million Nigerians which according to her is almost 50 percent of the Nigerian population.
According to her, another part of the bill gave power to the Nigeria Police Force to order internet service providers through the National Communication Commission (NCC) to disable access of any user in Nigeria through their location.
“This draconian provision gives the police power to disrupt the internet access of not only the persons they accuse of spreading false statements but the entire population living in that location,” Hassan said.
She further argued that a portion of the bill as well gives the police the power to decide what can or cannot be considered as ‘fake news’ where individuals or organizations could face up to three years jail term or fines up to Ten million Naira.
The bill, she explained, with it provisions places an inordinate amount of power in the hands of the government and security agencies adding that it contains overlapping legislations in Nigeria due to the Cybercrime Act of 2015.
She lamented also that there has been an increase in oppressive and targeting behaviour by the government towards information and ideas which call into question bad governance, corruption and poor service provision
Hassan said CDD acknowledged the groundswell of public opposition to the bill arising from an intolerant political climate where civil liberties have been repeatedly trampled upon by the government.
“The arrests, harassment and hounding of journalists, pro-democracy activists and voices of dissent are worrying signs that free speech, as a constitutional right of citizens, is under threat,“ she said.
Acknowledging the prevalence of fake news in Nigeria, she urged the Senate to disregard the entire bill and look for alternative approaches to the problems of hate speech and the spread of false information on social media.
Hassan said the CDD has recommended that the Senate focus on improving digital and civic literacy at all levels of society which will equip citizens with skills and knowledge to decide for themselves what is true and what is false.