ActionAid Nigeria has raised concern over the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill’ also known as the Anti-social Media Bill which was introduced by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 5 November 2019 to criminalize the use of the social media in peddling false or malicious information.
The Right body is however concerned that the provisions of the Bill, rather than protect the interest of the citizens, will infringe on rights and democratic expression of Nigerians.
The Communications Coordinator for ActionAid Nigeria, Lola Ayanda in a statement noted that the principle of free speech maintains that for effective democracy to exist, no individual should be prevented from publicly speaking out on any subject that is in the public interest.
“With the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, the rights of the citizens to freely debate the merits of any situation that affects their well being will be limited, thus reducing citizens participation in governance due to fear of possible prosecution.
Having analysed the Bill, AAN submitted a memorandum to The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Friday March 6, 2020 highlighting that the provisions of the Bill contradict the Nigerian Constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression and provides that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society.”
According to the statement there are already existing Laws, Acts and Agencies responsible for handling issues raised in the Bill, adding that the 2015 Cyber crimes law already criminalizes a broad range of online interactions.
“The Bill did not clearly define the term ‘Falsehood’ and provides a wide net for misinterpretation and validation of the increased clamp down on investigative journalism and human rights activists in the country as seen in recent times.
The Bill claims to promote peace and unity, but the language of the bill appears to create vague criminal offenses that would allow the authorities to prosecute objective criticism of the government.
It gives absolute power to the Police and it seeks to allow law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable internet access; this is typical of an authoritarian regime.”Action Aid Nigeria opines that the bill does not seek to protect the citizens, rather it serves political interest, and recommended that the Senate should halt further considerations of the Bill and dispose it.
“The Government should be responsive to objective criticism by the media as the fourth estate and the citizens, as this is the fulcrum that oils the wheels of true democracy.
They should focus on bridging the digital divide between urban and rural centers, as access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity in a digitized world. “