Again, the Senate has brought back a bill that will regulate the use of social media in Nigeria, this time, entitled, Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019( SB.132). The Bill which is sponsored by the Chairman, Committee on Senate Services, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, All Progressives Congress, APC, Niger East if passed at the end of the day, would help curb fake news on the internet.
The bill, which was one of the 11 bills read for the first time, is awaiting the Second Reading, then Public Hearing before the third read. Recall that there was this kind of anti-social media bill introduced by the previous eighth Senate, which led to outrage across the country, but was later withdrawn.
The old bill titled “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith” was sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi Central and sought to among others, compel critics to accompany their petitions with sworn court affidavit, or face six months imprisonment upon conviction. The old bill passed the second reading before President Muhammadu Buhari distanced himself from it, saying he was committed to free speech.
The Senators were then forced to withdraw the bill. The serious implication was that if the bill was passed into law, people found guilty of making false remarks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other similar media, would have faced two years in jail or N2 million fine.
Speaking with Journalists in his office on the new bill, sponsor of the new bill, Senator Musa, said the bill is for “patriotic Nigerians” who want to see the country live in peace. According to him, with the advent of social media, there is a reason for a country to see how this new media is tolerated, adding, “I as an individual may decide to remain in my room or office and then draft something I know very well is false because I want to hit at someone. I will decide to draft and throw on social media. Waiting a few seconds, it’s on there. Before you know it, it has been shared all over. I have a passion for IT and I know what it takes to disseminate your information, it is like the speed of light.”
The Senator who noted that the bill was not designed to gag the social media or right to free press, said, “It is a legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on the social media. False information has been disseminated so many times and they have caused so many chaoses in different parts of the World.” Citing examples of the spread of fake news on the internet during the recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the Senator said, “I felt we need it in this country if countries like Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia, Egypt are putting control to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it? There has never been a time when Nigeria has been very fragile in terms of its unity than this period.
“It is not to stop people from going into the internet to do whatever they feel legitimately is okay to do but what we felt is wrong is for you to use the medium to document information that you know is false, just because you want to achieve your desirable interest “If one commits an offence of this nature, and by virtue of what was committed, the law enforcement agencies will take the person to the court, there will be a court process that will prove that the person has done something wrong.
“It will serve as deterrence to others, we should fix certain penalties that when you know you will cough out something, you won’t do it. “If today, you can disseminate information of your President, taking a picture of the President and putting it in an invitation card, giving false information of your President, the office is the highest seat in the land. It is sacrosanct. It is something we cannot see it as anyhow information and you think that is just part of freedom of information or there is liberalisation of Social Media so you can do anything. As far as I am concerned it is wrong.” Speaking on the Penalties, the sponsor said, “If anyone is caught with this kind of situation, you cough out between N150,000 to a maximum imprisonment of three years or both.
And if it is a corporate organisation that refused to block that false information despite the fact that they have been alerted by authorities not to disseminate that information for public interest and they still go-ahead to do it, refusing to do that blockage will be penalised between N5 million to N10 million for those organisations. “For example, MTN, Glo, 9 mobile etc. which we use their platform in transmitting this information, if nothing is done, we fine them and you will see that it will be a deterrence to others.” According to him, as a developing nation facing so many challenges, there was no better time than to regulate the Internet. It would also be recalled that part of the old Bill by Senator Ibn Na’Allah had read,
“Any person who unlawfully uses, publishes or cause to be published, any petition, complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit, shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine. “Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by duly sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000.00 or both.”