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Nigeria's Social Media Bill slammed

Nigeria , 10 Dec 2019

Nigeria's Social Media Bill slammed

Nigeria's Social Media Regulation Bill, currently in review by federal lawmakers, has sparked nationwide debate and remains controversial.

According to the Bill, anyone issuing statements on social media that are "likely to be prejudicial to national security" will be liable for prosecution. It also outlaws social media posts that may diminish public confidence in Nigeria's government.

Contravention of the law is punishable by a fine, a three-year prison sentence or both.

The Bill also empowers law enforcement agencies to force ISPs to disable internet access.

According to global human rights focused non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, the proposed new legislation will criminalise criticism of the government.

The organisation believes the Bill is part of a worrying move by the country's government to contravene citizens' right to freedom of expression. It noted that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society.

"This [bill] would violate international law protecting freedom of speech. With about 29.3 million users across Nigeria, social media is a critical tool for shaping public discourse," the organisation stated.

Officials denied the assertion and said the Bill is in line with global trends to address the threat of fake news.

Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed added that the country needs a law to govern social media.

The bill was first considered in 2015 but was not ratified due to public outcry. Lawmakers did however pass the country's Cybercrimes law which contains a section on cyberstalking, and this has been used to charge bloggers.

The Bill has already passed second reading during which it secured majority votes, with Senator Chimaroke Nnamani the noted exception.

He said, "I do not only oppose this bill, I condemn it in its entirety. Based on our constitution, there is freedom of information and freedom of speech. There is a cybercrime act that deals with this issue. There are also laws that deal with false information, libel, slander and so on. Yes, fake news has done a lot in America and other countries, but they have not brought any law to deal with it. I, therefore, oppose this bill."

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