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#SayNoToSocialMediaBill: CSOs Press Statement before Senate Public Hearing

COALITION OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS FOR PROTECTION OF CIVIC SPACE

PRESS STATEMENT 4th March 2020

The Senate must reject the Anti-Social Media Bill, as it is unconstitutional and inconsistent with Nigeria’s international obligations

Ladies and gentlemen of the Press,

Fellow citizens,

We are gathered here today to report the summary of the people’s and civil society’s analyses of the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations; and for Related matters Bill, 2019 (SB.132), ahead of the Senate public hearing slated for 9th March 2020. We are glad to inform the members of the Senate and the International Community, that the Anti-Social Media Bill 2019 (SB.132) has been widely and popularly rejected by the people.

It has come to the understanding of the people that the Senate Bill 132 (Internet/Social-Media) Bill is a draconian and modified version of the defeated “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other matters Connected Therewith, 2015 (SB.143), sponsored under the 8th National Assembly. The bill which also targeted the internet and on-line media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, and the like, was dropped by the 8th Senate following an outcry by the people in 2016.

The latest attempt by the Senate to resuscitate an obnoxious bill that had been hitherto unanimously rejected by the people, constitutes an assault on the people and a flagrant assault on the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) which guarantees the human rights of everyone including to freedom of expression. The people have overwhelmingly rejected any attempt to police the internet and gag the right to freedom of expression through back doors.

It has been affirmed severally in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right; inviolable under the 1999 constitution. Section 17 (1) of the Constitution expressly states that: “The State Social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice,” while in section 37, it protects “The Privacy of Citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.” We invite the Senate to take a serious constitutional note of section 37, as the SB.132 clearly violates this provision.

It has also come to the knowledge of the people that it is a bill that seeks to give the executive arm of government outright powers to regulate the internet and control communications, but which has been disguised as a private member bill in the Senate. It is therefore instructive, to remind the 9th Senate of the publicly stated position of President Muhammadu Buhari before the first version of the bill was dropped in 2016, and also the position of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Internet/Social Media regulations.

According to the President, “Free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. Without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues. As a key component of democratic principles, people in democratic societies are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might.”

According to the Vice President, “I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that we as persons of faith and we, as leaders, and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else, to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war.”

Media freedom in Nigeria remains under attack, as shown by several cases of arrests and detention of journalists, bloggers and social media activists in the last four years. This trend suggests a disturbing trend toward repression of right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. The Internet/Social Media bill, the fast shrinking civic space and the clampdown on critics of government have shown a rising pattern of suppression.

The 9th Senate is therefore urged to take historical note of how previous sessions of the National Assembly had sided with the people and resisted executive overbearing and repression, thereby safeguarding the civic space, and ensuring respect for Nigeria’s international human rights obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nigeria has ratified both treaties and has even gone ahead to domesticate the African Charter as part of Nigerian laws.

This apparently executive plot pushing, manipulating and exploiting the Senate to regulate the social media and internet, will expose people to increased intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and exacerbate the growing attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and activists.

The National Assembly must immediately and publicly reject this illegal and unconstitutional bill, ensure full and effective compliance with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments. We as people and civil society reject this bill as both politically motivated and self- serving.

At a time when the United States has placed Nigeria on Visa restrictions and Special Watch-List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom, the European Union has also urged? the Nigerian authorities to guarantee full respect for human rights, the United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed? serious concerns about human rights violations in Nigeria, it is expected that the Senate will not do anything that will portray Nigeria as a repressive state with no regard for human rights and the rule of law.

The bill is a threat to constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights.

At a time when corruption is endemic and Nigeria has dropped on Transparency International ‘s yearly corruption perception ranking, moving two places down to rank the world’s 34th most corrupt nation, the Social Media/Internet bill will further worsen the position of the country, as it would be seen as a self-serving plot by politicians to block the public demand for transparency and accountability.

Whereas, Section 15 (5) of the constitution states that “The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” The SB.132 constitutes an abuse of power and will impede the fight against corruption, which would lead to violations of human rights.

In addition, the Senate is also urged to take consider the provisions of Section 22: “The press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” Any attempt to regulate the internet/social media, will directly impede this provision.

The Senate should also note that there are enough existing laws in the country’s statute books on defamation, privacy, libel and slander to protect public and private individuals along with the 2015 Cybercrimes Act. The SB. 132 Bill, therefore, is a legislative overkill. There is absolutely no need for a new law specially targeting the internet and social media platforms.

The planned public hearing on SB. 132 should therefore be an avenue to apologize to the people for wasting legislative time in resuscitating an obnoxious bill that had been totally rejected and to drop the bill. The Senate should rather promote bills that would improve the civic space, and not unduly restrict it.

We urge the National Assembly, in particular the Senate to view the internet platforms as independent dashboard of ideas where people can freely exchange ideas and express their opinions or thoughts.

Signed:

  1. Center for Liberty
  2. Girl Child Africa
  3. Global Rights
  4. Enough is Enough Nigeria
  5. Center for Democracy and Development
  6. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre
  7. Oxfam Nigeria
  8. Transition Monitoring Group (TMG)
  9. Centre for Information Technology and Development
  10. Sterling Center for Law and Development
  11. Network of Disabled Women
  12. Disabled People in Leadership Initiative
  13. Rule of Law Development Foundation
  14. Dorothy Njemanze Foundation
  15. TechHer NG
  16. Zero Corruption Coalition
  17. Raising New Voices Initiative
  18. Concerned Nigerians
  19. The Election Network
  20. Center for Impact Advocacy
  21. Amnesty International Nigeria
  22. Free Nigeria Coalition
  23. Raising New Voices Initiative
  24. Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution
  25. Education As A Vaccine
  26. Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative
  27. House of Justice
  28. Gatefield TV
  29. The Art and Civic Table
  30. SilverchipFox
  31. Butterfly Effect Empowerment Initiative
  32. Youth Concerns Development Foundation
  33. Dinidari Foundation
  34. Partners West Africa Nigeria
  35. Haly Hope Foundation
  36. Youths in Motion
  37. Gender Relevance Initiative Promotion
  38. Cedar Seed Foundation
  39. Women on Wheels
  40. E-Ability Platform
  41. State of the Union Coalition
  42. African Centre for Media and Information Literacy
  43. National Procurement Watch Platform
  44. Say No Campaign – Nigeria
  45. Community Action for Popular Participation
  46. Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress
  47. Tax Justice Nigeria
  48. Women in Nigeria
  49. Environmental Rights Action/Friend of the Erath, Nigeria
  50. Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF)
  51. Alliances for Africa (AfA)
  52. Women Advocate Research and Documentation Center (WARDC)
  53. Women for Peace and Gender Equality Initiative
  54. Women Rights and Health Project (WRAHP)
  55. Association of Aliwe Daughters International
  56. Gender Advocacy for Justice Initiative (GAJI)
  57. Equality Through Education Foundation
  58. Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre
  59. Girl Child Advocate
  60. Equality Through Education Foundation
  61. Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre
  62. Echoes of Women in Africa Initiatives
  63. Network of Productive Health Journalists of Nigeria (NRHJN)
  64. Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP)
  65. Citizens Center for Integrated Development and Social Rights (CCIDESOR)
  66. Halliru Memorial Youth Development and Empowerment Initiative
  67. Daria Media Foundation
  68. Sesor Empowerment Foundation
  69. Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Professor of Political Science, African & Women’s Studies,
  70. Responsible Citizenship and Human Development Initiative
  71. NoMore234NG
  72. Women Foundation of Nigeria (WFN)
  73. Media Concern Initiative (MediaCon)
  74. First Future Leadership
  75. Ovie Brume Foundation
  76. Women for Peace and Gender Equality Initiative (WOPEGEE)
  77. Ayodeji Fadugba, Director Kili Ceramics – Girl Child advocate
  78. International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH)
  79. ACTS Generation
  80. Country Associates Network (CANET)
  81. Emerge Women Development Initiative (EWDI)
  82. Working Moms Africa (WMA)
  83. Women’s Right to Education Programme
  84. Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative (GERI)
  85. ActionAid Nigeria
  86. Jireh Doo Foundation Nigeria (JDF)
  87. African Women Empowerment and Child Care Initiative
  88. Amazing Grace Inspirations
  89. Centre for Nonviolence and Gender Advocacy in Nigeria (CENGAIN)
  90. Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria
  91. Justice and Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI)
  92. Widows Development Organisation
  93. #BringBackOurGirls
  94. Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center
  95. Centre for the Eradication of Violence Against Women
  96. Child Rights Protection Initiative
  97. YIAGA Africa
  98. Connected Development (CODE)
  99. Youth Hub Africa
  100. BraveHeart Initiative for Youth & Women
  101. Global Hope for Women and Children Foundation (GLOHWOC)
  102. Women Africa
  103. Koyenum Immalah Foundation
  104. Center for Transparency Advocacy
  105. Avocats San Frontiers France
  106. Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative
  107. IANSA Women Network Nigeria
  108. Equity Advocates/The Woman Today
  109. Women’s Right to Education Programme
  110. Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER)

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