OrderPaperToday – Since its introduction in the Senate, the bill, Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation, popularly known as the Social Media Bill, has been generating public outcry following fears that its proposed regulatory role may be abused to gag free speech on social media.
This is not the bill’s first introduction. It was sponsored in the 8th Senate but thrown out due to its controversial nature.
To the amazement of so many, the bill was passed for second reading on November 20 on the floor of the Senate, with some senators expressing full support after its sponsor, Senator Sani Musa, led debate of the bill.
Senators Abba Moro, Elisha Abbo, Ibn Na’Allah, Ibrahim Gobir said positive things about the bill.
OrderPaperNG observed that there appears to be a connection among these senators. Most of them have been ‘victims’ of social media with scandals that were escalated on social media.
A look into these scandals gives possible reasons why these lawmakers approved the passage of the bill for second reading.
Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger)
He is the sponsor of the bill.
Sani has consistently maintained that the proposed legislation will not stifle freedom of expression but aims at curbing the spread of fake news on the internet.
INEC contractor scandal
The social media went haywire when news broke that Musa had been a contractor with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since 2011, supplying machines used in printing electoral materials. He was still in this role during the 2019 general elections, a poll he participated in as a senatorial candidate.
It was believed that his involvement with INEC would give him undue advantage and pave way for his victory.
This led to outrage on social media as Nigerians called for his disqualification.
In his contribution, he said the bill has good intentions and would protect the society.
His words: “One way or the other, I think all of us here have been victims of the spread of falsehoods and the manipulation of the internet has caused a lot of havoc to some of us. And so, I rise to support this bill, believing that it will protect the society against unscrupulous elements within our society.
“I think all of here acknowledge that where one’s right stops, another one’s right begins. And therefore, I think that if we allow an unbridled manipulation of internet and the spread of falsehood, the society will be at the mercy of these elements.
“Today, we know that America has risen up against fake news and that fake news has very terrible consequences on the American society and even the world. If we leave this to continue the way it is spreading, to take root in Nigeria, I feel that at a certain point, we may find it difficult to come to terms with the damage that it may do to the society.
“I think all of us must rise up to support this bill and pass it into law and then to regulate one aspect of our lives that is negative and will have very serious and dangerous consequences.
“Fake news is dagerous. The spread of falsehool is even more danerous. We must be able to deal with this at its infancy before it develops into a cankerworm that will consume the rest of the society.”
Immigration recruitment scandal
Moro is a former Minister of Interior who supervised the botched recruitment exercise conducted by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in March 15, 2014, which led to the death of over 15 applicants across the country.
Aside the poorly planned exercise, Moro was also involved in a case of allegedly defrauding 676,675 applicants of N676,675,000 who participated in the recruitment exercise.
Each candidate was charged N1,000 fees.
He was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on an 11-count charge bordering on obtaining by false pretence, procurement fraud and money laundering.
His involvement in both cases earned him a bad reputation which was widely condemned by social media users who demanded his resignation and imprisonment.
Elisha Abbo (PDP, Adamawa)
The youngest Nigerian senator likened fake news to cancer while speaking in support of the bill.
He said, “As a matter of fact, the issue of fake news… If it is not regulated… It is a cancer waiting to consume all of us. A situation where someone will sit down in the corner of his room, conceive a lie, develop a lie, spread that lie and in some cases, even syndicate the distribution of these lies.
“He posts it from the corner of his room and in a matter of minutes, it’s been read in America, in England, in Australia. A lie from a corner of a room. Even conventional media that are regulated by government are suffering from these kinds of falsehood.
“So, I am supporting this bill holistically and I stand up again to say that this bill is good and if we cannot regulate spread of falsehood, it will consume all of us tomorrow.”
Sex toy shop assault scandal
Abbo became popular on social media almost immediately after he was sworn in as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on June 11, this year.
His fame grew in large proportions when a video released by Premium Times in July this year showed him assaulting a woman at an adult sex toy shop in Abuja.
This act drew widespread condemnation, with human rights groups, gender and women’s rights groups, critics and others using social media platforms to express their anger.
The rage was also fuelled by fears that no punitive measures would be imposed on the lawmaker after his dreadful conduct.
Although the Red Chamber probed the issue, the report of the ad-hoc committee mandated to do the job is yet to see the light of the day.
Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi)
He equally threw his weight behind the bill.
‘Failed’ social media regulation bill
Na’Allah became a subject of discussion on various social media platforms when he sponsored a similar bill to this one in the 8th Senate.
Though the bill was thrown out on May 17, 2016 as a report by the committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal matters said it conflicts with existing laws, Na’Allah had faced a backlash from Nigerians who felt he was bent on taking their rights to freedom of speech from them.
The bill sought to regulate the use of social media and short message service (SMS) in the country but was widely opposed by Nigerians.
The contentious part of the bill read: “Where any person through text message, tweets, 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 or group of persons, an institution of Government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of N2, 000, 000 or both such fine and imprisonment.”
So intense was the opposition that President Muhammadu Buhari also disagreed with the provisions of the bill while advocating free speech in a democratic society.