Online publishers, under the aegis of the Online Publishers Association have condemned in the strongest terms the motivation, process and purpose of the “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” aimed at gagging social media discourse.
The bill, which passed its 2nd reading at the Senate in a record eight (8) days and is now set for a public hearing subsequent to its being referred by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to the committees on ICT, Judiciary led by the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
“We align with the Nigerian public in describing this action by the Nigerian Senate as pure idleness, and an abandonment of the electoral mandate to focus on laws for good governance to deliver increased welfare for the people. The Senate is seeking instead to restrict the scope of human freedoms, growth of new platforms of social interaction and public accountability,” the group said in a statement issued in Lagos on Monday.
“Having engaged and consulted widely with stakeholders in the country, including members of the National Assembly and the ruling government; we offer our support to the “Public March” being organized by ‘The Freedom of Information Coalition in Nigeria; on the National Assembly and across the nation on Tuesday, December 08, 2015; amongst the many other lawful steps to be taken individually and severally to not only stop this unjust law but to hold the lawmakers more accountable,” the statement signed by Femi Awoyemi added.
Monday’s statement added: “The proposed bill immediately reminds the general public of the infamous Decree 4 of 1984 passed under military rule; one that took away our freedoms. The continuous attempt at gagging members of the public was again re-enacted in 2011, when the Senate attempted to pass a bill by another APC Senator; for which ironically, the current members of the Senate stepped down after extensive public outcry. This appears therefore to be an on-going project in the Nigerian Senate.
“The planned action by the Senator Bukola Saraki led Senate seeks to negate Chapter IV section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
“Equally, it seeks to set aside the UN Charter: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 which states that – “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
“We believe that online publication and social media use is a welcome disruptor consistent with the aspirations of Nigerians and we offer credible, integrity laden and purposeful lawmakers a different approach that adopts a strategy of assisting the Senate to re-orient any bill that would improve, sanitize and expand the frontiers and penetration of responsible online publishing and social media use.
“There are laws in other jurisdictions guiding internet use from which we can learn useful lessons from. Examples include the Computer Misuse Act (1990) –UK; Electronic Communications Act (2000) – UK; Electronic Commerce Regulations (2000) – UK; Electronic Communications Act, 1999 – Australia; Electronic Transactions Act, 1999 – Australia; Measures on the Administration of Internet Information Services, 2001 – China; Electronic Transactions and Commerce Law No 2 of 2002 – Dubai; Act on the Dissemination of Publications and Media Contents Harmful to Youth – Germany; Digital Signature Act, 1997 – Germany; Child Online Protection Act, 1998 – United States; and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 1986 – United States; to mention a few.
“The summary of our position is thus: If the Senate is really interested in providing national interest governance over the use of the internet or electronic communication, as indicated in Sections 3 and 4 of the proposed Bill (bearing in mind the cybercrimes bill of 2014), there are other areas of intervention that can be in public interest such as copyright/intellectual property, anonymity/pseudonymity regulation, editorial rules compliance, obscenity, privacy, child molestation, pedophilia, harassment, competition rules etc.
“The attempt to jump from petitions/affidavit to electronic communication is dubious at best with no clear guidance on interpretations for intent, petition, and other issues covered under the Freedom of Information Act and protection of whistleblowers.
“They are two different issues. While the emphasis on affidavits seeks to tie the hands of the petitioner with a threat of perjury, the extension violates basic human rights, and runs counter to the letter and spirit of certain extant laws: the mischief that the law maker seeks to address in this regard is however already taken care of by other extant laws, to wit: the laws on libel and defamation.
“The relationship between government and new media may be complex, but it may well be the case that majority of the people expect government to control offensive or dangerous media and communications, whether old or new; but not to shield dubious, corrupt and fraudulent conduct by public officials.
“Therefore, instead of seeing censorship as an untoward governmental intrusion into a domain of legitimate private choice, we believe a more constructive engagement with key stakeholders can elevate the subject to the domain of public interest and help guide an ill-informed Senate towards more enlightened direction.
“Finally, in pushing ahead with this bill, the Nigerian Senate has only succeeded in representing itself as a “Threat” to Democracy. This proposed bill must therefore be thrown out in its entirety as is,” the statement said.