A contentious bill that will punish peddlers of falsehood on social media with jail terms and fines — even as there hasn’t been any definite indication as to what constitutes falsehood — has passed second reading in the Nigerian Senate.
The bill that will regulate the use of social media in Nigeria, entitled, Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019( SB.132), scaled second reading in the Senate on Wednesday.
The bill was sponsored by the Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Sani Musa, who claims to have received threats since he reintroduced the bill to the Red Chambers on November 6.
Before now, a similar anti-social media Bill introduced by the previous eighth Senate which led to outrage across the country was later withdrawn after President Muhammadu Buhari distanced himself from the bill in an apparent show of commitment to free speech.
The Bill is now awaiting the Public Hearing before the third reading and passing at the end of the day.
Senator Musa who sponsored the bill said: “While the internet has democratised information, the fact remains that it has also been a weapon in the process which is why governments across the world trying to mitigate the risks associated with information transmission via the internet by monitoring abuse and deliberate misconduct.”
He added: “One of the disadvantages of the internet is the spread of falsehood and manipulation of unsuspecting users.”
The Penalty for defaulters, according to the bill, is NGN 300 K for individuals and up to NGN 10 Mn for corporate organisations, as well as a jail term of up to three years or both.
Senators Ibrahim Gobir, Elisha Abbo (who was infamously videotaped while hitting a lady repeatedly at a sex toy shop and is currently undergoing an inquiry), and Abba Moro, supported the bill in their various contributions during the debate that lasted about 10 minutes.
The only senator who spoke against the Bill was Senator Chimaroke Nnamani — a former governor of Enugu State. In the same vein, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah raised a constitutional point of order to caution the Nigerian Senate against its passage.
“I not only opposed to this bill, I condemn it in its entirety. Based on our constitution, there is freedom of information and freedom of speech,” he said.
“There is a cybercrime act that deals with this issue. There are also laws that deal with false information, libel, slander and so on. Yes, fake news has done a lot in America and other countries but they have not brought any law to deal with it.”
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, put the passage of the bill for a second reading to a voice vote after confirming that no senator was ready to speak against it. The majority of the lawmakers in the chamber unanimously voted in support of the bill and it was read the second time.
Consequently, the new Bill, which has now gone past second reading, was referred to the Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, All Progressives Congress, APC, Ekiti Central led Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to report back at Plenary in four weeks.