Nigerians condemn Senate over obnoxious social media bill

Bukola Saraki docked

Nigerians have united against a draft bill being discussed in the Senate which aims to punish anyone who “propagates false information” on electronic media.

Tweeters have been using #NoToSocialMediaBill to campaign against the proposal which has the backing of Senate President Bukola Saraki who is currently facing corruption allegation at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

It proposes up to a seven-year sentence or N4 million ($20,000) fine for anyone found to be sending “abusive messages”.

Human Rights Watch condemns the move as an attempt to muzzle free speech.

Millions of social media users in Nigeria, as well as those sending text messages, could be affected, it says in a statement.

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) reported the Senate to the United Nations for attempting to deny freedom of speech and jail critics of the government.

Writing to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the group said, among others: “SERAP also contends that the bill will restrain access to internet and social media, curtail the freedom of the press, and online content in illegitimate, disproportionate, or otherwise unlawful and abusive ways. The real targets of the bill are social media and human rights defenders that might be critical of government policies or report on corruption involving high ranking government officials.”

However, Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah of the governing All Progressive Congress, who sponsored the bill, said the publication of false stories was becoming rampant in the country.

“You can’t write false stories just because it is social media,” he told the BBC Hausa service.

The offences the proposed bill seeks to criminalise already exist under Nigerian laws including those on treason, defamation, and libel, our reporter says.

Nigeria has a vibrant civil society, with many activists who use social media for their campaigns. It has the largest number of mobile phone users in Africa.