Senate Social Media Bill: A clear Conscience Fears No Accusation By Lauretta Onochie
It appears the 8th Nigerian Senate, an unpopular set of men and women are still battling for relevance in the Nigerian political space. This has beclouded their judgement so much that they cannot articulately separate the wheat from the chaff. While admitting that there is a tiny bit of substance in their desperation, by and large, it’s an outright and deliberate effort to gag ordinary Nigerians and give Pres. Muhammadu Buhari a bad name and image at a time he is enjoying local and international goodwill and accolade.
What we need to do is study the Social Media Bill carefully to understand what the Senators are working at and where they have crossed the line by smuggling in repressive parts.
The Genesis of the Social Media Gag Bill:
The Senate had mud in its face, suffering great humiliation when they admitted Frivolous Petitions against the person of Rt. Hon Chibike Rotimi Amechi and others during the screening of the Ministers.
The Senators were blinded by their desperation to clutch at something that would give them a bargaining chip against the Presidency because of their misconception that Pres. Buhari was responsible for the travails of Sen. Saraki at the CCT; Possibly also, to force President Buhari to haul at them, some sacks of Dollars, a practice that was common under the PDP.
Eventually, those on whose petitions the Senate stood on, could not substantiate the allegations in their petitions and the Ministerial nominees, all of them, are now Ministers.
HERE IS THE BILL.
. “Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a duly sworn affidavit in the High Court of a state or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.
MY TAKE: This has to do with SUBMITTING PETITIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT AND IT’S AGENCIES. I am in Support of this. If we had this in place, the Senate would not have wasted time and resources looking into frivolous and unsubstantiated petitions such as was filed with them against Rotimi Amechi, etc.
. “Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.
MY TAKE: This too has to do with USAGE of frivolous petitions by THE GOVERNMENT AND IT’S AGENCIES. The Senators are still in order.
. “Any person who unlawfully uses, publishes or cause to be published, any petition, complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit, shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.”
MY TAKE: This is where they begin to cross the line. If a petitioner submits an affidavit-backed Petition but the government agency sits on it without acting, the Petitioner could be compelled to pass it on to the social media to force the Governmental Agency to act. Our Senators expect Whistle blowers who pass on vital information to Media Practitioners to also submit a copy of their accompanying Affidavit but those who share or cascade the same petition on the Social Media may not have the affidavit and it’s totally out of the control of the Petitioner and those who share it. So would they round us all up and jail us for Six months? This is ridiculous and totally unacceptable.
. “Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by duly sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000.00 or both.”
. “Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio, or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, institutions of government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N4,000,000.00.”
. For the social media, the bill says, “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
MY TAKE ON 4, 5 and 6: While admitting that Media outfits such as AIT, former NTA and emergency bloggers who use the Social Media to disseminate fabricated stories need to be held accountable, this is an outright war against Whistleblowers and the Media as a whole who do a fantastic job of balancing our nation by exposing evil deeds of those in positions of trust. It’s insanity and will be resisted. No one can gag the media in the 21st Century.
Looking at it from another angle, we have an Analogue Assembly, made up of people who do not know the difference between email and Website. All they are interested in is to protect their dirty sides which, thanks to the Social media like the dogged Sahara Reporters, are made public.
We as Nigerians must remember that the Senate is not part of the Presidency. The President Buhari I know will never support the gagging of the press, particularly the Social Media that played a major role in defending his integrity leading up to the elections that enthroned him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is an open book and has no need to fear being exposed. Our Senators must emulate our dear president and strive to live above board because a clear conscience fears no accusation.
Finally, I will lose no sleep over this feeble attempt to jail Nigerians who express their rights of opinion and free speech. It’s an effort in futility. They need to go back to the drawing board and extract what is needful, discarding and shelving their desire to gag the press and give President Buhari a bad name.