Attempts to muzzle Nigeria’s social media‎, By Mausi Segun

Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in selfie-time with young Nigerians working in the National Assembly
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in selfie-time with young Nigerians working in the National Assembly
By Mausi Segun

This week, Nigeria’s senators moved a bill designed to muzzle free speech on social media one step closer to becoming law. The proposed law could affect an estimated 15 million plus Nigerians who use social media, not to mention the doubtless high numbers of Nigerians who send text messages.

The draft bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” specifically targets users of social and electronic media. It passed its second reading in Nigeria’s Senate on Tuesday, and is now due to go to committee, where it will be further studied. If passed into law, it will restrict freedom of expression and a free press, which are protected by Section 39 of Nigeria’s constitution.

The draft bill, sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, a member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s All People’s Congress party, seeks to criminalize two types of behavior.

First, it proposes a sentence of up to seven years in prison or a five million naira fine (US$25,000) for “anyone who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message.”

Second, it seeks to criminalize anyone disseminating via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other form of social media an “abusive statement” intending to “set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law.” The penalty for this is up to two years in prison or a two million naira fine (about US$10,000), or both.

The bill is riddled with problems. The vague term “abusive statement” is not defined and leaves a lot of room for subjective interpretation. Also, the proposed sanctions are excessively heavy. But most troubling of all, the draft bill is simply unnecessary. The offenses it seeks to criminalize already exist under Nigerian laws including those on treason, defamation, and libel.

Nigeria’s lawmakers should focus on the critical issues facing the country, such as the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, communal violence, corruption, and impunity for crimes by Nigerian’s own security forces, rather than trying to muzzle non-violent expressions of genuine dissent and criticism. To stay in line with international and African human rights standards, Nigeria should be moving to decriminalize defamation, not creating new similar crimes.

Nigeria is known for its vibrant civil society and strong independent media. Ironically, it was free speech and a free press that helped bring President Muhammadu Buhari and his party to power in this year’s elections. The Senate should not succumb to a misguided attempt to reverse those hard-won freedoms.

– Ms. Segun is of Human Rights Watch.


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  • taiwo

    Sai Bukky!!! Sai Oloye!!!!

    • sam

      This is the implication of allowing the looter governors to run for the senate after looting their various states.And that is why we dont want saraki their,but he got their through wuruwuru means.And it is the same member of senate that used social media to win the last election and they need it to win the next .They are fighting the wrong battle ingnoring the crucial nigeria problems affecting people daily.

      • growthengine

        Saraki is doing Buhari’s bidding on this one.

  • Alpha

    I am sure the president realizes how social media was instrumental to his victory at the last elections. If people feel so strongly about this then they shouldn’t bother trying to get the National Assembly to back down on this, all efforts should be directed at convincing the president on the need to veto this bill.

    • Chuks

      I am reasonably sure Buhari will not sign such a bill. The proponents of this bill are the utterly corrupt senators whose past and present is tainted with skeletons. Knowing the mess they intend to create using their senatorial position, they are proactively emasculating the social media. They forget in their folly that their useless bill will ultimately be set aside by the Supreme Court as contravening constitutional statutes. Nigerias bunch of lawless senators.

  • Damilola

    God bless the Editorial Board. One only wonders why this has become the sudden emergency needed to create the new Nigeria they promised. This is in fact the real change the media made people to vote, via aiding the Apes to propagate their featured pomade ironic person of their then Candidate. You people made us believe he’s a changed man, even when you all knew he’s a leopard. No one in his rational sef wud blame you people though, you’re just doing your job and being paid for it.

    Now what has changed in this man since he came into power with the whole of deceit? I think very soon he’s name wud be recorded in the Guinness Book of Record for the status of a President elected on a complete paradox of his person. Now check this out

    DECREE NO 4 OF 1984

    Section 1
    “any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Govt or the govt of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrespect shall be guilty of an offence under this decree…….and those found guilty would be eligible for a fine of not less than 10,000 naira and a jail sentence of up to TWO YEARS”

    See the bill an APC Senator proposed on the floor of the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday, December 2, 2015.

    2015- BILL TO DISCOURAGE BASELESS ALLEGATIONS

    “Where any person through text messages, tenets, whatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons and institutions of govt or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment for TWO YEARS or a fine of N2,000,000,000 or both fine and imprisonment”

    Leaving that, what of the invasion of Abuse of human rights and dignity as in the case of Dasuki, Kanu, Are( former DSS Boss)…? Take it back to his ways in 1983 and tell me he’s a changed mallam. What of the epileptic economic status? Reverse back to 1983 and tell me he’s renewed.

    I will stop there so this could be passed and not restricted by PT. But all the same I don’t think any sai Baba bigot can dispute this or support this trend and if they do, to their detriment. Remember I told you its only little time this man will leave u people with dumb tongues, IT’S COMING

    • Chuks

      It is the likes of you Faniweed propaganda group created by the clueless that brought about this debate against free speech. You are utterly disgusting!.

      • Damilola

        This people won’t seize me laughing ma Faniweed ass out. Understand this, I’m not any man syndicate, I speak for myself, and stand on the position I deemed right and fair enough. If by the virtue of your cynical inclination you thought it so that, I’m a group and not my person” well you’re subject to your opinion. Remember when your likes called GEJ thief, dog, pig, drunkard, the modests of the same frivolous words that filled twitter, FB, and other social media, online news and media prints, that you are now crying for. What an hypocrites. Think for yourself man and free your conscience

  • Lex Loci

    “I discharged every person under punishment or prosecution under the
    sedition law because I considered, and now consider, that law to be a nullity,
    as absolute and as palpable as if Congress [Parliament] had ordered us to fall down
    and worship a golden image. The censorial power is in the people over the
    Government, and not in the Government over the people.” It would give
    public servants an unjustified preference over the public they serve, if
    critics of official conduct [p283] did not have a fair equivalent of the
    immunity granted to the officials themselves. A rule compelling the critic of
    official conduct to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions — and to
    do so on pain of libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount — leads to a
    comparable “self-censorship.””

    ………..United States Supreme Court

    [1964]

    • W.W.W

      DEAR SIR,

      I don’t know about others. I speak for myself. Bala Ibn Na’Allah has never sounded like a lawyer to me.
      He’s never said anything which a good journalist ever found sensible. He is as mediocre as he’s rustic.
      I had wondered who lost his senses to propose this law. I stopped wondering immediately i read he did.
      Only he could be this daft. Elemental jurisprudence bars the National Assembly from ad hominem laws.
      The National Assembly is not permitted by jurisprudence to enact laws targeting, say, Sahara Reporters.
      A lawyer who did his examinations by himself and has been thinking after graduation should know that.
      Sahara Reporters is a public trust and has earned its good reputation which the Senate of Nigeria hasn’t.
      Nigerians prefer to trust Sahara Reporters than to trust Nigeria’s Senate sprinkled with treasury thieves.

  • Victor

    Nigerian youths should stand up against this self serving members of the present Senate, how can they be respected if all they have been trying to do was to create laws that protects them. The clamp down on social media is another in that direction, in addition to looking at immunity for Senate President and members, etc. They should wake up, this is Nigeria of today and not yesterday where impunity reigns, Nigerians are more enlightened. Any unsavoury action as individual or group will eventually be answered for. They are quick to run to the court for injunction from arrest, why not same court if you feel you have been defamed. THIS IS AN ATTACK ON PRESS FREEDOM AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

  • Omotolaaraujo

    The Senators are criminals.

  • Felix Udoh

    I am happy that our vindication is coming this early.

    • DD

      Listen to yourself. You pray that your country unravels, along with the attendant suffering of yourself, your children (if you have any) and everyone else.

      This says a lot about how sadistic you Jonathan followers are. Even the man has fogotten that he lost an election. Shame on you!

      • Felix Udoh

        The shame can only go to people like you who have no sense of history. You can only blame yourself for your lack of discernment. When you were voting this con-artists into power, did you spare a thought for your children?

        • Chuks

          The man that converted defence budget and loan meant for soldiers equipment to pay for campaign advert is your idea of what a president should be? The man that claimed to have raised N25 billion as campaign funds yet dipped his sticky leprous finger into federal money is your choice. No wonder mad men always accuse their doctors of being the mad ones. One lesson of Jonathan’s unfortunate journey into leadership is that he quickly separated reasonable Nigerians from unreasonable ones. These unreasonables will, with pathetic bitterness, continue to lament their loss of power.

          • Felix Udoh

            Maybe you should make an attempt at forcing me to join your chorus of people who have taken the economy of this country 30 years backward. Why don’t you make an effort at making me support your sectional bigot at gunpoint? On your insipid remarks about defence budget, it is childish people like you believe that every accused is guilty. Until Goodluck Jonathan is convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction, I am afraid, he still has my support.

          • Chuks

            What else are you expected to write apart from “court of competent jurisdiction”. Shame to you and the world renowned clueless, dr dumbo. We warned Nigerians especially the Ohanezuzu group that dumbo does not have the capacity to manage a supermarket, yet they voted for the man who has made Abacha a saint in looting madness. To you: with corruption as working capital, the economy was booming under the black ink leader.

          • Felix Udoh

            Shame to you and the world’s renowned ‘Useless and ”Helpless’ sectional bigot. We have seen how the economy is booming under the certificate-less one.

          • growthengine

            How did Buhari and APC finance their campaign?

        • DD

          You’re obviously still pained. Ndo. Buhari’s government shall be a success, to the benefits of all Nigerians, including those who didn’t vote for him.

          Pained losers like you can relocate out of the country.

          • Felix Udoh

            Shall, will, shall, will. That is all we hear about your heavenly Government that is to come. If what we see already after having spent 12.5 percent of his term is what you call success, I am sure you do not have an understanding of the meaning of the word called success. In any case, I wish you luck because you are going to need lots of it.

          • DD

            Lol. Pained loser. You have many more years to wail in pain.

            People like you sheepishly looked on for 16yrs while PDP destroyed the country but you now want Buhari to turn it to paradise in 6months.
            If the kitchen gets too hot for you, you can as well join your Biafra agitator brothers. After all they said that the SS belongs to their phantom, mapless nation.

            Perhaps joining them can relieve your obviously fresh pain at Jonathan’s electoral loss.

          • Felix Udoh

            Mumu follower. Idiots like you do not know the meaning of success. I have never wanted your bokohari to turn Nigeria into paradise because I know he has no such capacity. Jesters like you that believe that a man who was consigned to the dust bin of history 30 years ago can rescue a 21st century Nigeria must have your head examined. In any case, why should you know? like leader, like follower. Even his running mate in the last election has declared him ‘Helpless’ and ‘Useless’.
            About your insipid remarks about Biafra, I have no stake in Biafra as an Akwa Ibom man and I do not need to join them. The only message i have for all you parasites is that, you should start looking inwards, the day cometh for resource control and when that day comes, all options will be on the table.

  • O’odua Republic

    GEJ/PDP FOR ME (SIGNED FOI BILL INTO LAW)

    BUHARI/APC FOR THEM (RETURN OF DECREE 4 OF 1984)

  • sonogol

    @sadiqolayemi:disqus

    Let the lawyers split hairs as much they want. Human nature forbids
    voluntary obedience to thieves. Nigeria’s government officials are thieves for
    the most part. In other countries, including Africa’s, thieves are burnt or shot,
    or hanged. Or, excluded from society by imprisonment. Nigeria is the only rogue
    exception. Nigeria is governed by thieves. And now the thieves want to pass a
    self-interested law to compel respect by force. That’s the simple meaning of
    this proposed law. A law to compel human beings to walk with their heads can’t
    work. This criminal libel law is best ignored. Human nature forbids voluntary
    obedience to thieves.

  • SAM .A

    PMB is the first beneficiary of the reach of social media in Nigeria , President Obama rode on the wing of social media to get to power in US in 2008. I remember , I once saw PMB with IPAD In the earlier part of his campaign . This social media is unstoppable . I here by urge President Buhari to VETO this bill , so that it will not see the light of the day . Saraki/Dagora and Bala Na ‘Allah can make any law with their leprous mind . The president has to sign it to become a law. Wish you all LUCK.