Social Media Bill May Kill Democracy In Nigeria

 a rejoinder to Adelaja Adeoye’s article Blame Sahara Reporters, Ogundamisi, Omojuwa And Yourself For Clampdown On Social Media discussing the possible reasons for proposing An Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Related Matters, or the social media bill as it was dubbed by Nigerians, by the Senate. Mr Ayodeji puts forward the arguments in support of his disagreement with some of the issues raised in the article.

The proposing of the social media bill by the Nigerian senators has undoubtedly generated serious controversy. Many Nigerians have rejected the bill as it is meant to gag the new media; it is designed to takepower away from numerous Nigerians (especially the critics of the federal lawmakers). I see it as an assault on the rights of Nigerians. In a bid to stop the bill from being put through the hashtag #NoToSocialMediaBill went trending last week. In fact, a coalition of the civil society organisations has recently taken this hitherto social media protest to the National Assembly Complex.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct

In as much as I believe that everyone is entitled to having their own opinion, I, however, disagree with the tone, in which Mr Adelaja Adeoye wrote his article. For example, he claimed: “You [social media users in Nigeria] have refused to use your common sense in calming down before you react to nonsense. You freely join in amplifying lies and propaganda” is outrageous. The writer should note that a piece of information that is nonsense to him might mean just the exact opposite to others. Also, what he considers to be propaganda and lies might turn out to be facts proven by other people. Human beings are products of sentiments, no one can blame people for their thoughts. That is not to suggest that social media users cannot be criticised, but they should not be portrayed as gulls. People have different disposition to issues — while some remain calm upon hearing some troubling news (let’s say about corruption cases), others react angrily on various social media platforms. After all, people cannot be the same.

Use of social media strengthens democracy

I am glad that Mr Adeoye highlighted some of the notable projects Nigerians had carried out with the use of social media: the protest against the fuel subsidy removal, #BringBackOurGirls, and the defeat of the former president Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. Although the author did not project in positive light the role played by these projects in deepening democracy in Nigeria, he did admit brilliantly that social media was a very powerful tool in the hands of Nigerians. For instance, if not for the massive protests — which were galvanized by the use of social media — against the fuel subsidy removal in 2012 by the Jonathan-led federal government, corruption would have further eroded the leftover of the nation’s democratic values. Imagine that if Madam Oby Ezeks had not formed the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group, the shameful kidnap of over 200 innocent Chibok girls would have been swept under the carpet during the last administration, as usual. The success of the group in standing for the sanctity of life show that Nigerians could unite under an umbrella, devoid of tribal or religious sentiments, to care for each other.

The removal of Goodluck Jonathan from office in the March 28 presidential election is a big plus for the nation, which has never installed a leader of its choice since gaining independence in 1960. Without social media this would have been almost impossible.

Heroes of democracy

That social media be gagged because a group of young and vibrant Nigerians are using it to “mislead gullible Nigerians on a daily basis”, or because “Sahara Reporters are habitual lairs who specialize in breaking fake news…” is totally baseless. You will agree with me that the likes of Dele Momodu, Kayode Ogundamisi, Japheth Omojuwa, Tolu Ogunlesi, and a host of many other fearless Nigerians who use the social media effectively are heroes of democracy. They are heroes because they took advantage of the new media to help deepen the democracy of Africa’s most populous nation. They have inspired many Nigerians—both young and old—to take their destiny in their hands. This has allowed Nigerians raise the bar of governance.

Lots of Nigerians are now more interested in reading news, discussing as well as tracking the activities of their government courtesy of Sahara Reporters, Premium Times and the numerous “social media influencers.” Sahara Reporters have their flaws, like many other national and international news site, but citing this as one of the reasons for censoring the social media is frivolous. I believe anyone who is disgruntled with the activities of a person or group of persons has the liberty to approach court.

Gagging the social media is a misplaced priority

When the Jonathan administration failed to deliver on its copious campaign promises, Nigerians sent him packing. If the former president had lived up to the expectation of many citizens, no amount of “media blackmail” (as his supporters choose to put it) would stop his re-election bid. Therefore, the opposition party at that time, APC, took advantage of that to provide a better alternative. True democracy is about alternatives, after all. And in the end, they were successful. So should anyone blame the social media for providing them with the platform?

I find rather funny the claim that this bill was designed to “jail anyone caught in the act of frivolities, libel and misinformation on the social media…” In Nigeria, there are already established penalties for libel, defamation, and other similar offences. The Law of Tort has taken care of that. There is also the Cybercrime Law. I believe that a politician who does not have any skeleton in his cupboard will not trend on the social media for the wrong reasons. It’s as simple as that. By the way, are Nigerian Senators representing themselves or the ordinary Nigerians? Why are they so worried about those who “criticise” them on social media?

On a final note

I can honestly agree with Mr Adeoye’s submission that Nigerians are to be blamed for the clampdown on social media if he can show me that the use of the new media has made Nigerians less interested in the affairs of the nation, that it has made Nigerians become voiceless, and that it has prevented participatory governance in the country. Without mincing words, social media remains the messiah for Nigeria’s democracy.

Nigerian Senators had better stop chasing innocent social media users when there are loads of problems confronting the country. Trying to criminalize the thoughts of citizens who have the right to freedom of speech is uncalled-for. The United States, whose democratic ideals we cherish, allows for extensive freedom of expression on social media. When the gay rights law was passed, President Obama was called all sorts of names. In fact, several caricatures of him flooded the social media. But did he attempt to gag the social media? No. Former President Jonathan wasn’t spared, too. And now, President Buhari is facing it.

So our Senators should get used to it, too. Nigerians are battle ready to move their nation forward. And that’s why the so called social media bill cannot see the light of the day.  

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