Amid citizens’ outrage, will hate speech bill survive?
More Nigerians have continued to condemn the Hate Speech Bill, which has passed the first and second readings and heading for the committee that will subsequently call for public investigation before it is passed, saying it was dangerous to Nigeria’s democracy. The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 proposes that offenses be punishable by a fine, a prison sentence of three years, or both. The bill also seeks to allow law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable internet access.
It appears Nigeria is eager to join the League of Nations trying to fix abuse of the internet with drastic laws. For example, Russia, Germany, France, Malaysia, Singapore have in the last two years passed laws to curtail and punish internet falsehood or fake news. But interestingly, they had first fixed their hospitals, roads, educational system and other critical infrastructure before trying to fix the problem of fake news.
Head of Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof. Ayo Ojebode, said peddlers of fake news are a danger to democracy, “but this bill will be a disaster to the country. Without the bill, state emperors called governors, have shown us what they can do with their critics – where is Agba Jalingo and others?
“And now, with the bill added to the existing cybercrime law signed by President Jonathan, I think we would just be in trouble. Yahuza Tijjani spent 59 days in detention for a Facebook post that annoyed a member of the Kano State House of Assembly. Yahuza is a student of Bayero University, Kano, I learnt. All that is happening without a social media bill. Imagine what will happen once it becomes law.”
Although those championing the bill said it would help enhance security, peace, and unity, the language of the bill appears to create vague criminal offenses that would allow the authorities to prosecute those who ordinarily criticise government as part of their social and democratic right of extracting good governance from elected officials.
Ojebode feels the bill is not authentic, adding, “There is absolutely no doubt that any bill can be abused. Even in Germany, people have started complaining that too much content was being blocked as the social media law is being applied. Imagine what will happen in Nigeria with all the overzealous emperors that we have. And sadly, folks have been focusing on minister of information and the Federal Government. What some of the governors are doing to people is far more horrible than what Aso Rock is doing.”On how the malfeasances of social media could be tackled without necessarily undermining press freedom, the don said education was the answer.
According to him, “If we train people to recognise fake news and hate speech for what they are, then we will have succeeded in clipping the wings of fake news. Can we have a bill that makes it mandatory for schools to teach social media literacy? It is a long-term measure with a lasting promise.”
Last week, at the presentation of The Gatekeepers (volume two) and Nigerian Journalism: 160 Years of Advancing Accountability, Promoting the Public Interest & Speaking Truth to Power, former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, said journalists and media houses must ensure that the hate speech bill is killed before it gets to the plenary session. Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade, expressed the hope that the bill will not be passed into law.
According to him, “Since the Nigerian press already has regulation, they can reexamine the scope that the National Broadcasting Commission covers to avoid having so many similar laws.”For brand analyst, Ikem Okuhu, those championing the bill are only wasting their time, noting, “There is no way such a law would not come back to haunt them. Most of our leaders approach issues from current advantages forgetting that tables do turn and they could be at the receiving end of the same thing in the future.
“The provisions of this bill runs contrary to the provisions of the constitution on the rights of the individual to hold opinion and do business. I am convinced a rash of litigation would overwhelm our courts if and when this bill is passed.”Ikem said the bill was designed to gag the press and encroach on people’s freedom, because the laws on libel and slander cover what it seeks to accomplish, adding, “It is unnecessary and will take the country backwards if allowed to stand. There are tools to tackle this scientifically and track fake news and its propagators. The problem is that proof is tough with regard to fake news and my fear is that government might take advantage of the few guys peddling fake news to trample on the rights of (the generality of the) people.”
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