ABUJA- The fresh move by the Federal Government to regulate social media has continued to generate controversies as netizens vow to resist any attempt aimed at muzzling freedom of speech.
We recall that the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, on October 3, sent a bill to the National Assembly, seeking to repeal and reenact the NBC act, CAP L11 laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The bill, if passed into law, would enable NBC to regulate social media.
Speaking when he hosted Mohammed Idris, minister of information and national orientation, at the commission’s headquarters after the bill was submitted, Balarabe Ilelah, NBC Director-General, described the ills of social media as a “monster”.
“One of our major problems now is social media. Unless there is a law that allows NBC to act on social media issues, the issue will continue to be a monster in our daily lives in this country”, he said.
Subsequently, the broadcast regulator said that it had commenced engagement with major social media platforms to curb the excesses of their users.
The development has stimulated controversies amongst Nigerians who alleged that the FG was putting pressure on the social media companies to unduly restrict their fundamental human rights.
Some Nigerians antagonizing the bill opined that it was a plot by the government to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and privacy of individuals.
Reacting to NBC’s move, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, called on the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, to outrightly reject the bill.
According to SERAP, the bill, if passed into law, would criminalize the legitimate and lawful exercise of the human rights of Nigerians.
SERAP, in a letter signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the move to regulate social media would be “inconsistent and incompatible with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations.”
According to SERAP,
“The proposed bill raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and would lead to digital siege.”
We recall that the immediate past administration led by former President, Muhammadu Buhari had also taken a step at regulating the social media over alleged fake news and other activities of users.
All efforts by the then Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to put the activities of netizens in check, hit the rock as Nigerians resisted the attempt.
The FG, on June 4, 2021, suspended the operation of the microblogging site, Twitter for allegedly supporting insurrection in Nigeria in October 2020 during the EndSARS protests, which ended in the destruction of lives and properties all over the country.
The microblogging platform was restored on January 12 after about seven months of suspension.
According to a social media influencer, Mathias Atule,
“The FG wants to stop criticism. They don’t like when people tell them the truth, especially if you are not their supporter”.
Atule on Saturday said that the move would be resisted, stressing that
“the same social media was what the present administration used to gain support during the last election, so how come they now want to regulate it?”
“When people like Femi Fani-Kayode, Festus Keyamo were paid to use social media platforms to campaign for the party, they didn’t see the need to silence people at that time. Wait for 2027 and you will see how they will do propaganda on social media just to win an election.
“Nigeria has gone beyond that. If we are practising democracy, then we should practice it to the fullest. This thing won’t work. They don’t want to know the truth but we will keep telling them,” he said.
Meanwhile, another social media user, Monica Adikwu told our correspondent in Abuja that some social media platforms, like Tiktok, have aided moral decadence among children.
“If the regulation is about stopping some of these Tiktok users from posting bad content, I think I will support it.
“These days, everybody wants to trend, so you see people posting nudes all in the name of getting followers. This is wrong. We are Nigerians, we are Africans, we have culture.
“But if the move is to stop criticism, that’s where we will all have problems with the government. Because I don’t understand why some people don’t like criticism. No government and even individuals can grow without constructive criticism.
“The duty of the opposition party is to oppose wrong policies. When you stop them today, what happens when you become the opposition or is there a plan to stop democracy?” He queried.
Also speaking on the matter, the immediate past Director-General of Voice of Nigeria VON, Osita Okechukwu, expressed optimism that the bill would be rejected.
Okechukwu, who is also a founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, declared in a chat that there is no democracy without freedom of speech.
“I think the Cyber Crimes Act and other extant libel laws in statute books can take care of those who abuse the fine concepts of social media.
“I am never in support of draconian bills either by omission or commission that trample on our hard-earned freedom and liberty.
“For democracy cannot exist without freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
“Nigerians should be allowed to enjoy the freedom guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I joined the league of most Nigerians that objected to this obnoxious bill when our then minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, romanced such ideas.
“From all indications, Nigerians will once reject the bill. Whereas one appeals for restraint by those who abuse social media, one appeals to the promoters of the bill to carefully peruse the Cyber Crimes Act and other extant libel laws.”