LAST week, a very controversial bill passed second reading in the Nigerian Senate. The bill titled: “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions”, is sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, representing Kebbi South. The bill’s sponsor said it is aimed at whoever makes “an allegation or publish a statement or petition in the newspaper, radio, or medium of whatever description against another person, institutions of government, or any public office holder”.
And to underline the intendments of the new bill, whoever falls foul will go to prison for two years; there will also be fines dependent on the media form used to convey the allegations that fall foul of Bala Na’Allah’s bill. Thus, a “false allegation” issued via radio, television or print media, would carry a fine of N4 million, while the same allegation, issued through social media, would attract a fine in the sum of N2 million. Na’Allah’s bill gave an omnibus coverage of social media, to include forms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, SMS and WhatsApp, as platforms upon which “false allegations” could face prosecution.
There was an obvious rush to pass the bill, because Na’Allah presented it for first reading on November 24 and the second passed last week on December 2. Many senators, including Biodun Olujimi (a former television broadcaster), spoke in support of the controversial bill, arguing that: “…the amount of falsehood flying everywhere is staggering and a scapegoat has to be made as deterrent for others”.
Threat to democracy
The controversial Dino Melaye specifically targeted the online medium, SAHARA REPORTERS, which he described as “a threat to democracy with their continued act of insubordination”. He asked the Nigerian government to “…write the US Government on their (SAHARA REPORTERS’) misinformation”; further seeking Senate censure of the news channel, because according to him, SAHARA REPORTERS was “…blackmailing and intimidating the Senate”.
And when SUNDAY TRUST interviewed BalaNa’Allah, he remarked that “…the public cannot blackmail us into saying that we cannot sit down and make laws for our country”. What he failed to state, which Nigerians see through, is the attempt to hide their faces behind a finger. Politically exposed senators are attempting to make a law specifically for themselves!
The BukolaSaraki-led 8th Senate has lurched from one controversy to the other since its controversial inauguration on June 9, 2015. The same body was also allegedly preparing a law to extend immunity to the National Assembly leadership, in order to protect its President, Bukola Saraki, from facing prosecution in the courts.
The speed at which the anti-social media bill is being rushed strengthens suspicions about Na’Allah’s motive. Bala Na’Allah is one of Saraki’s most gung-ho sidekicks in the 8th Senate and that says a lot about his new bill! Luckily, the Presidency early this week dissociated itself from the Senate stating that: “The President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the Constitution of Nigeria”.
In a democracy, it noted, people “are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might”. That is lost on the politically exposed senators who seem thoroughly scared of democracy’s open forum which allows citizens use of social media platforms. Citizen power traumatises senators because social media in citizens’ hands endangers the regimes of heist and irresponsibility of the politically exposed.
Democracy’s open forum
The 8th Senate has too many individuals who must eventually answer questions about their stewardship of the resources of the Nigerian people. An anti-social media legislation as proposed, is actually a weapon in the hands of those who feel very worried about what the immediate future holds for them under the current dispensation, with President Buhari’s zero tolerance for the corruption that many of the leading political actors are used to; have profited from and want to continue in our country.
In real terms, it the constitutionally guaranteed right of the media to hold government accountable to the Nigerian people, that this proposed law is trying to oust. If we allow this absurd and arrogantly self-serving bill to find the light of day, it seems clear to me that the Saraki-led 8th Senate won’t stop at muzzling social media outlets. It is social media today; but the entire Nigerian media will also be endangered.
The Nigerian media remain the social space where, in the final analysis, most of the crimes the politically exposed have committed against our country will be exposed and interrogated. It is that possibility of exposure and interrogation, which these forces want to subvert. No, it is not SAHARA REPORTERS or social media that endangers democracy.
It is those who have stolen Nigeria blind and have accumulated huge sums therefore; and are fighting the battles of their lives in courts; in the space of public opinion and who can manipulate national institutions to aid a desperate battle for personal and political survival, that endanger Nigeria’s democracy! These are the forces that Bala Na’Allah’s anti-Social Media bill is attempting to defend. They are social media’s malcontents in the Nigerian Senate and Nigeria’s political society. They would fail if we can build a national movement to stop them!