THE NATION-——Thousands of protesters stormed the National Assembly yesterday, demanding immediate withdrawal of the controversial bill pending in the Senate.
The bill, popularly described as an “Anti-Social Media Bill”, attracted the protesters from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.
The angry protesters, made up of coalition of civil societies organizations, said the bill would criminalise free speech in the country.
The bill, they further said, was in direct contradiction of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Section 39(1) of the country’s 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The protesters, in a letter to Senate President Bukola Saraki, warned that if the Senate continued with the bill, they would be forced to pressure the international community to impose travel ban on the Nigerian legislators.
The protest letter was endorsed by Aisha Yesufu, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo Atoye, Mukhtar Dan ‘Iyan and Dr. Ahmad Isa on behalf of the civil societies.
Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Shehu Sani, who addressed the protesters, received the letter on behalf of Saraki.
Abaribe and Sani promised to communicate issues raised by the protesters to relevant committee
THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Nigerian Press Organisation as well as a coalition of civil society groups, comprising the Institute of Media and Society (IMESO), Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC), have condemned the proposed Social Media Bill, which is before the Senate.
NLC, in a statement issued yesterday by its Acting President, Peters Adeyemi, said attempt by the Senate to gag Nigerians and prevent them from speaking their minds on issues was designed to scuttle the nation’s democratic governance.
The congress said the bill, titled: “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Related Matters Bill”, sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah (All Progressives Congress, Kebbi South), was unacceptable to workers and should “not be allowed to see the light of day”.
Adeyemi said the bill was a sad reminder of the military era when journalists were arrested for writing what the military junta considered spiteful.
He added that it was contrary to the provisions of the constitution and other international conventions on free speech.
The statement said: “The bill is coming at a time we expect our legislators and indeed, all Nigerians to recommit themselves to actions and legislations that can contribute to deepening democracy as well as fight against corruption in our country.
“The bill, which proposes an option of N4 million as fine for those claimed to have made false newspaper, radio or television statements and N2 million for those claimed to have made false phone text messages or statements on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp is a sad reminder of the military era, when journalists were mindlessly hurled into jail for writing what the military junta considered spiteful.
“For us, we believe our legislators should know our country is in dire need of strong legislations on critical areas of our national life that demands speedy attention rather than concentrate on frivolous, uncivilised, image damaging debates on a bill that is obviously intended to circumscribe the rights of Nigerians to ask questions when their leaders engage in conducts that further injure our collective interests and image.”
The NPAN and NPO, in a statement by their president, Nduka Obaigbena, urged the National Assembly to cease and desist from considering or passing any laws seeking to abridge constitutionally guaranteed free speech.
Obaigbena said such laws would “not only be unconstitutional, they undermine our system of democracy and the rights we all fought for”.
He added: “We cannot because of a few irritations on the social media seek to clamp down on the rights of citizens to freely hold and share opinion on any platform.
“We believe any untruths should be confronted by facts not laws, and indeed the Freedom of Information Act should be enhanced to promote more openness in governance.”
A coalition called, comprising IMESO, MRA and IPC, in a statement, said they came to the conclusion that the bill constituted a threat to democracy because it seeks to repress the social media, the conventional media, the civil society and the citizenry as a whole.
The statement reads: “In the light of all the pressing development challenges confronting the country, which should be the priorities of the senators and all other persons exercising any form of political power or authority, the PAMED is of the view that the bill itself is frivolous and unwarranted.
“The bill, through its frivolous content and malicious intent, seeks to achieve nothing other than undermining freedom of expression, press freedom, public participation in governance and democracy.”
The coalition said the only path of honour left for the Senate was to immediately and without any further ado drop the bill, “otherwise it would continue to bring upon itself more pubic odium, derision and protests”.