Opinion

Internet falsehood and Hate Speech bills of hatred

 

By Christie Doyin

When the Hate Speech Bill started resonating across the country, many
of us citizen’s barely gave it any thought. This carefree attitude is
what has nudged on some legislators to become hate speech super stars.
Or how else would one described the grandstanding of our lawmakers who
are themselves hate speech embodiment, proposing death penalty for
anyone found culpable of hate speech with the clause “that leads to
the death of another”. Interestingly, the super stars extraordinary do
not seem to know what the bill actually is all about, so to say and a
mixup with its sister bill called Internet Falsehood and Manipulations
Bill.
The Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations Bill was introduced by
Senator Mohammed Sani Musa
(APC: Niger), which he explained was to sought to address the threat
and mitigate against the risk associated with information via internet
networks by monitoring abuse and deliberate misconduct.
A bill similar to that is the ‘prohibition of Hate Speech Bill’ which
is being championed by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Deputy Chief Whip),
the proponent of death penalty for hate speech.
Abdullahi, after the outcry by Nigerians across board against his
proposal, in a statement explained that the death (by hanging) penalty
proposed for anyone found culpable of hate speech which leads to the
death of another, would be amended by the Senate.
I wonder what the amendment would be, perhaps death by electrocution
instead of hanging originally stipulated as the maximum punishment for
offenders in the proposed legislation when subjected to legislative
input by the National Assembly.
According to Abdullahi, hate speech, has led to the death of many and
is a major factor behind depression and suicide in Nigeria. I wonder
where he got this from, when indeed the economic situation and lack of
good governance are more responsible for suicide borne out of
depression and desperation.
Talking about the Niger state legislator, Sen Sani Musa, who among
others, said he sponsored the Internet Falsehood bill because of the
rumour that President Muhammodu Buhari was taking a second wife. “I
sponsors social media bill in the Senate because some months back, it
was on social media that Buhari wanted to have a second wife”. He also
cited the ‘Jubril from Sudan’ saga and tale as one reason why he’s
doing this. Sad you may say.
How logical that is for a member of the highest law making body of
Nigeria to say is what some of us still find difficult to comprehend.
The good thing about the whole rubbish is that not a few Nigerians
have condemned the proposal.
In his submissions, Musa mentioned the highlights of the Bill to include:
Provisions for the issuance of regulations dealing with the
transmission of false statements of facts;
Issuance of guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers of
mass media services;
Introduction of measures to allow offenders plead their case with a
law enforcement department and seek further redress in appropriate
courts; and The provision of penalties for defaulters.
Sen Musa stated that the bill, if passed, would address the menace of
fake news and falsehoods in media broadcast and transmissions.
According to Musa: “One of the disadvantages of the internet is the
spread of falsehood and manipulation of unsuspecting users.
“Today, motivated by geopolitical interest and identity politics,
state and non-state actors use the internet to discredit government,
misinform people and turn one group against the other.
“The hoax about the demise of President Muhammadu Buhari in London and
his purported replacement by one Jubril of Sudan, among others, are
things that threaten the peace, security and harmony of our people.”
If the bill becomes an Act, anyone found guilty will pay a fine of
N300,000 and corporate bodies who willfully promote and dispense fake
news or falsehood deemed to threaten national security, will pay a
fine of N10 million.
“Penalty for defaulters goes up to N300,000 for individuals and up to
N10 million for corporate organisations and imprisonment of up to
three years or both.
“It also issues guidelines for internet intermediaries and providers
of mass media services and sanctions for offenders,” the lawmaker
says.
Good but is death penalty the solution, would it prevent defaulters
from hate speech and the likes and most importantly, how certain are
we that those who have grudges against some other persons or even that
government, I mean the ruling class, would not abuse the proposed law?
These are also some of the concerns of Nigerians.
The Bill has however been referred to the Committee on Judiciary,
Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative action.
Actually, Nigerians are not against protection of the rights of
citizens neither are they against a bill to fight fraudsters and other
vices relating to social media. The issues as stated above are how
ready is the Nigerian government in applying the content with
fairness; why death penalty as the ultimate punishment and what
criteria determine hate speech and the like? These are questions
begging for answers and actually burgling minds of Nigerians in
general.
Many Nigerians have however condemned the bill, saying it could be
used by the government to restrict citizens’ freedom of expression and
silence critics and political opponents. There are also protest by
civil societies and other concerned citizens.
Of all the hogwash, the annoying aspect is that the bill, ‘Protection
from Internet falsehood and manipulations bill 2019’, was allegedly
plagiarised from an act, which was recently signed into law by the
Government of Singapore.
In fact, a report by an online medium has claimed that the bill,
‘Protection from Internet falsehood and manipulations bill 2019’, was
allegedly plagiarised from an Act, which was recently signed into law
by the Government of Singapore, an allegation the Senator has since
denied.
The lawmakers claimed the object and purpose for which the Commission
is established is to eliminate all forms of hate speeches in Nigeria
and advise the Federal Government on all other related aspect, but how
effectual can this be?
Sadly, the bill passed second reading with support from a majority of
the Senate despite opposition to the proposed legislation by Nigerian
citizens who felt the bill only seeks to clamp down on free speech.
During the debate, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu East) was the only
lawmaker that opposed the bill on the floor of the senate when it came
up for debate.
According to Nnamani, the bill is completely unnecessary because some
of its provisions have been taken care of in the Cyber Crime Act
signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“I not only oppose this bill, I condemn it in its entirety. Based on
our constitution, there is freedom of information and freedom of
speech.
“There is a Cyber Crime 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. I, therefore, oppose this
bill,” Nnamani said.
But Senators Ibrahim Gobir, Abba Moro and Elisha Abbo went all out to
support the bill during plenary.
For Senator Abba Moro, representing Benue South District, his reasons
for supporting the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill was with
good intention because it would protect the society.
After listening to both sides of the argument, Senate President Ahmad
Lawan, put the debate to a voice vote. Majority of the senators went
with Musa.
Lawan explain what the social media bill is about and why it is
generating so much anger in the social media space.
Nigerians on social media have been against the bill that tend to
regulate the online space in the country should it become law.
As part of reactions to the bill, twitter users have published the
names and contact details of all 109 senators and legislators are
being bombarded with phone calls and email messages from constituents
on why the bill shouldn’t be allowed to see the light of day.
Nigerians, including celebrities and civil society groups have also
taken to all social media platforms to criticise the lawmakers who are
supporting the bill and denounce the piece of legislation as a
throwback to the military era. As a matter of fact, protesters have
stormed the National Assembly over the bill in outright condemnation
and also demanding immediate release of Mr. Omoyele Sowore who has
been in the custody of the Department of State Services despite being
granted bail by the court.
The protest tagged #SayNoToHateSpeechBill also held at the National
Assembly gate.
The protesters stormed the National Assembly in their numbers early on
Wednesday, bearing placards and banners with “#SAY NO TO SOCIAL MEDIA
BILL” and “#SAY NO TO HATE SPEECH BILL” boldly inscribed on them.
A civic group, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education
has lend voice to the fact that the said proposed bills on social
media regulation and hate speech would not add any value to the
nation.
The group described the legislations as ill-conceived and an assault
on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens to free speech.
Executive Director, CHRICED, Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, who said this at
a news conference in Abuja on Monday, noted that the Nigerian
Cybercrime Act, 2015, had sufficient provisions to address the gaps in
the law relating to the misuse of the social media.
He stated, “While we do not in any way endorse the use of social media
to promote hate speech, fake news and disinformation, it is an
over-reach for political actors to use legislative power to deny the
rights of citizens to free expression.”
Zikirullahi noted that the elite are acting on the basis that they
were untouchable because they are in control of political power,
adding that this feeling of invincibility was giving them the
confidence that they could use the draconian legislation to haul
others into jail.
He warned that there is need for caution on the part of the lawmakers.
Stating that “The champions of these legislations do not seem to
realize that if they do not tread with caution, they could someday
become victims of the very legislations they are attempting to enact
to harass other citizens,” he said.
The activist advised the arrowheads of the discredited bills to shift
their focus to more productive ventures, including making laws to
tackle the dilapidated health infrastructure, collapsed education
system, poverty, crimes, unemployment, corruption and terrorism in the
country.
I think it is about time we as citizens of this great nation channel
or thoughts towards making our lawmakers responsible to us rather than
turning them to tin gods who feel they owe us no duty except throwing
peanuts, when challenged, to the electorate who got them in. Let us
make them answerable to us and know they are duty bound to make laws
that would make us as citizens and a nation great.
It’s a NO to obnoxious Internet Falsehood and Hate Speech bills of hatred.
*Doyin, former Editor of National Pilot Newspaper writes via e-Mail:
cdoyinronk@gmail.com

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