A former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, on Friday said the attempts by the Nigerian legislators to muzzle free speech through an anti-social law would be futile.
In her reaction via Twitter, Ms. Ezekwesili scoffed at the proposed law and said it would be impossible to enact.
“I laughed in Wazobia as I read that Senate is enacting a Social Media Act. Let all those who know it is “IMPOSSICANT” join me to LoL, biko!” Ms. Ezekwesili said.
This week, Nigeria’s senators moved a bill designed to muzzle free speech on social media.
The draft bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” specifically targets users of social and electronic media and has passed a second reading. It is now due to go to committee, where it will be further studied. If passed into law, it will restrict freedom of expression, stifle the vibrant discourse that goes on social media which is relatively free from the reins economic influences that sometimes gag mainstream media.
The draft bill, sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’Allah, seeks to criminalize two types of conduct.
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 N2 million fine (about US$10,000), or both.
Ms. Ezekwesili believes that the passage of this bill into law will be impossible because Twitter and some other social media platforms cannot be summoned by the government.
“Thank God that Twitter and other SM platforms cannot be “summoned” before your N130Billion budget gulping 65 committees. #ThankGod!” she said.
Ms. Ezekwesili added “we elected you to NASS to be a check against poor governance. You steadfastly fail. Social Media empowers your Citizens then you strike it out?”