In case you do not have the gist already, a member of the Nigerian Senate, Bala Ibn Na’allah, has proposed a bill titled “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”. According to newspaper sources, a section of the bill reads:
“Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
It is interesting that the Nigerian Senate, known for its legendary lethargy in passing bills that bring actual development to the country, have seen this bill through two readings within two weeks of its introduction. This super zeal immediately smacks of an attempt at shutting down government critics on social media. Don’t we already have We already laws that address defamation, slander and similar matters?
But law is not my forte. However, as a tech person who is active on social media, I immediately find the quoted section of this bill amusing. Every time any government attempts to stifle freedom of speech, the result is that people go underground and speak from there. If there is one place where it is easy to go underground, it is online, especially social media. Those who wish to criticise the government, they will simply open anonymous social media handles and ride on. How does the government want to chase these ghosts?
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is wasting time and tax payers money pushing this bill – or at least the section that addresses social media.