The bill, called the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 (SB 132),” would essentially allow the government to shutdown the internet whenever it sees fit. It was proposed by Senator Muhammadu Sani Musa of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who claimed that the measure was necessary to prevent the spread of “hate speech” and extremist ideologies through online channels. “Individuals and groups influenced by ideologies and deep-seated prejudices in different countries are using internet falsehood to surreptitiously promote their causes, as we have seen in Nigeria with the insurgency of Boko haram,” he said.
A clip of Senator Elisha Abbo another vocal supporter of the bill, who is currently under investigation for an alleged assault after being caught on video slapping a woman at a sex shop in July—shows him passionately defending the bill on the floor and condemning what he calls “fake news” from being spread to different countries. “It is a cancer waiting to consume all of us,” said Abbo.
A similar bill was proposed back in 2015, but was widely criticized and never passed.
If the law were to pass, those who violate it would be penalized with a fine of up to N300,000 ($828) or three years imprisonment. While corporate organizations would be fined N10 million ($276,103).
Despite the claims of politicians, the proposed bill is being seen as a hindrance to free speech and a move in line with that of a totalitarian government, as it would give the government free will to block access to the internet if it finds a user expressing views outside of what it deems appropriate. For many, it seems like an attempt to silence any form of political dissent or dialogue that the government might find unfavorable. Questions have also arisen around its applicability and the arbitrary standards that might be employed to determine what constitutes fake news.
The widely followed advocacy page Enough Is Enough Nigeria, pointed out that the bill appears to be a replica of Singapore’s “Protection from Online Falsehoods & Manipulation Act” that was passed June of this year.
According to Techcabal reports, several other African nations have previously established laws that impede on their citizens use of social media—pointing to growing instances of government censorship across the continent. Uganda passed its controversial social media tax last year, while government-initiated internet shutdowns have occurred at various times in several countries including Cameroon, Tanzania, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and DRC—particularly during election periods.
Censorship is a growing issue in Nigeria, where reports of advocates, human rights activists and journalists—including Sahara Reporters founder Omoyele Sowere—being jailed continue to emerge. Amnesty International has declared several of them “Prisoners of Conscience.”
Many Nigerians view social media as one of the only channels they have left to speak out openly against corrupt governance, social inequality and other widespread injustices. “We have sufficient cause to believe that this bill contains elements that may affect the right to free expression of internet users in Nigeria,” said Nigerian digital rights advocacy group Paradigm Initiative in a statement in The Guardian Nigeria. “We intend to follow up on it as it goes through the legislative process and is officially gazetted.”
Public figures, artists, activists and journalists are coming together online and denouncing the proposed law using the viral hashtag #SayNoToSocialMediaBill.
“Good morning ! Hope all is well. Well it’s not. If the social media bill passes law enforcement agencies have the right to shut down internet at any time.This means if we are shouting about something our government is doing.They can TURN OFF our internet! #SayNoToSocialMediaBill” – Bolanle Olukanni
A Ghanaian media practitioner, digital marketer, and influencer marketing specialist with a major focus on tourism, emerging technologies, and e-commerce.