135 Civil Society Organisations, Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and many others have asked the Senate to withdraw the social media bill, noting that the groundswell of opposition against it showed that Nigerians are against the proposed law.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Muhammad Musa representing Niger State East Senatorial District.
The Niger State Senator, Mohammed Sani Musa who sponsored the Bill remain adamant.
According to Senator Musa, he sees no wrong in the bill, which among others, seeks to prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission.
It also deals with the regulations guiding internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services.
The public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, held on Monday saw an outright rejection of the Bill presentations during the session chaired by Senate Opeyemi Bamidele who himself is known as a defender of democracy.
Declaring open the Public Hearing, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan noted that the Senate has never assumed the Position of Knowing it all.
According to him, the public hearing “is a crucial one because the Bill has generated a lot of passion. The passion is not unexpected because the Bill relates to the Internet. The Internet has become central to our lives, as it has reshaped how we live, work and how we interact”.
The penalty for non-compliance, according to the bill, “for individuals, is a fine not exceeding N200,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both, and in any other case, a fine not exceeding N5 million.
“The police may issue an access blocking order directing the NCC, to order an Internet Service Provider, ISP, to disable access by end-users in Nigeria to an online location where a false declaration is being transmitted.”
The bill added that ISPs who fail to comply could face criminal charges and be subjected to a fine of up to N10 million.
Reacting to this, the NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta criticized the bill. “NCC provides infrastructure for internet service providers to operate. But it has no mandate to interfere with content or determine appropriateness.
Emphasizing that “certain provisions of the bill are difficult to implement,” he drew attention to an aspect highlighted by most critics: the bill gives unconscionable power to the Police to be the judge and jury of proper internet content.
He noted noted that certain provisions of the bill were difficult to implement, adding that these provisions had already been covered by other laws.
Insisting that the bill had general drafting anomalies, Danbata said: ‘’It is our opinion that National Assembly will need a redraft, so that it can be aligned with existing legislative drafting.”
“The bill is undefined and misleading,” said Sa’a Ibrahim, chairman of BON, reflecting the opinion of private-sector broadcasters in Nigeria. Without mincing words, she declared the bill and its intention as “not necessary.”
The CSOs argued that the majority of views and arguments canvassed against the proposed law indicated that it had no place in the country.
They expressed satisfaction with the opposition to the bill by Nigerians during the public hearing at the Senate on Monday.
This was contained in a statement jointly signed by the Centre For Liberty, Girl Child Africa, Global Rights; Enough is Enough Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development, Civil Society Legislative, Advocacy Centre, Oxfam Nigeria, Transition Monitoring Group and others in Abuja on Wednesday.
On his part, the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative,Mr Gbenga Sesan said, “Today our online freedom isn’t just slipping away – it’s getting dragged down by fervent enemies. If we don’t resist this bill, the future generation will hold us accountable. Let’s defend our rights in these hours of maximum danger.”