The proposed social media bill sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na Allah recently caused uproar in public discourse especially among the youth. The bill seeks to clampdown on malicious and baseless petitions that cannot be substantiated, coming from some individuals. But the dimension and the punitive measures attached to it may have caused the death of the bill on arrival.
In the bill, Senator Ibn Na Allah proposed serious punitive measures which appear to be too stringent for violators of this bill. The idea of having a stringent law to curb the excesses of social media users obviously did not go down well with Nigerians. The explanation given by the sponsor of this bill sounds plausible. But on second thought, and with the generality of its proviso, easy passage of it cannot be guaranteed. Nigerians can never accept it.
The bill according to its sponsor seeks to stop frivolous petitions against public office holders. However, the bill itself is embedded in frivolity. There are existing laws that are applicable to tackle the issues raised in the bill. Besides, to ensure accountability and transparency in government, public officers must be regularly scrutinized to get the best out of them. It is incorrect to say that government will save cost and prevent waste of time in the investigation of petitions. For every petition presented by members of the public, there is always an element of truth even if it is not total. The suggestion of having to obtain an affidavit will deter people from coming out to say the truth about someone because of the strenuous legal processes.
This bill is completely useless and it should be aborted by the Senate. Cases of defamation; libel or slander are under law of tort which is an existing statutory provision for civil damages. Defamation is the act of casting aspersion on someone through written or oral form to defame the personality of another person in the eyes of the right thinking members of the society. It is also known as ‘character assassination.’ However, the aggrieved party can sue for damages and bring the erring party to justice within the provision of civil law. In some instances judges may advise out of court settlement to amicably resolve such a particular case between the parties involved.
Nonetheless, the direction of this bill makes it unacceptable. It is politically motivated to serve the interest of politicians. Public office holders in Nigeria abhor transparency and accountability of government which can justify the push for this bill. Also, some provisions of this bill are those meant for criminal cases. Defamation is an exception because it is a civil offence which presses for damages as against criminal consequences.
The social media bill should not have been called its present name. Social media is by virtue of advancement in technology. Citizens cannot be prevented from using it according to their taste. Another big flop of this bill is privacy. Extending the punitive measures of this bill to Whatsapp users, BBM, Mobile text messages and other micro platforms of communication is a defeat of any good purpose inherent in this bill.
Any malicious or frivolous petition against public officers should not be a problem. The onus of proof is on the subject involved to debunk such fictitious claims and thereafter, press for damages or defamation. But to completely gag public expression on social media and other media, either public or private is a miscalculated, counter-productive, and oppressive proposition.
Section 39 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution gives room for public expression of views and ideas without interference. The attempt of the elite class to muscle freedom of public expression is highly nauseating. It signifies disconnect between electorates and elected public representatives in the Senate. The reasons tendered for the acceptance of this bill is flippant. The Nigerian people deserve good representation that will bring about developmental laws, not a puerile and stifling law like that of the social media bill.
Mr_Odunayo Bankole is a multimedia professional. His brand of journalism is both liberal and conservative. A broadcast major, he is very passionate about online journalism and digital media. Feedback—firstname.lastname@example.org