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Stakeholders push against Social Media Bill

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The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters held a Public Hearing on the Protection from Internet Falsehoods Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019, with support from the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC). The Bill, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, representing Niger East Senatorial District, has generated a lot of criticism since its introduction on the floor of the Senate. Most of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), government parastatals and other stakeholders who made presentations at the hearing expressed their displeasure at the Bill and asked that it be disposed of in its entirety. Among the points made against the Bill is the fact that there are extant laws legislating on the subject matter the Bill proposes to cater to, and concern over the ambiguous discretionary powers the Bill seeks to give the Police to enforce its provisions. The Bill was also heavily criticised for its tendency to take away an individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing, as it empowers the Police to decide on what constitutes falsehood, and not the courts. Some of the submissions made also highlighted the Police’s lack of capacity to enforce the provisions. The Bill was further described as having the potential to infringe on people’s fundamental right to freedom of expression as contained in section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The Committee was referred to several treaties bordering on human rights, of which Nigeria is a signatory, urging the law to be weighed against these international conventions.

The Executive Director of PLAC, Clement Nwankwo, in his submissions, noted that the Bill was capable of repressing constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in a democracy, underscoring that the state of affairs in the country is a reflection of the excesses of the Executive. He added that the Bill if passed into law, will only serve to foster human rights abuses and impunity in Nigeria and therefore urged the Committee to discountenance the Bill .