•Afenifere, NUJ, NGE, others kick
Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The controversial anti-social media bill introduced at the Senate last November received bashing from various groups and bodies at the weekend as the upper legislative chamber holds a public hearing on the bill today.
The bill, entitled “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill,” sponsored by Senator Musa Mohammed (Niger East) passed through second reading in January before being referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters headed by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, which has scheduled its public hearing for today in Senate Committee Room 022 by 11 am.
Among those invited to grace the public hearing are socio-cultural groups like Afenifere, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), who at the weekend reiterated their opposition to the bill, saying there was absolutely no need for the bill.
Spokesman of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told THISDAY, that the group will not be part of the public hearing meant to scuttle the rights of Nigerians to air their views.
According to him, “It is nauseating that those who are furthering the agenda of terrorists by considering a bill to create an agency for terrorists would want to criminalise speech by those who carry no weapons other than their tongues.
He emphasised that as far as Afenifere is concerned, “they are only waging war against open society while encouraging the spread of terror by pampering terrorists with an agency.”
The Nigerian Guild of Editors stressed that it would continue to oppose the provisions of the bill and the bill in its entirety.
NGE President, Mr. Mustapha Isah, told THISDAY that supporting the bill would be tantamount to encouraging illegality.
He stressed that there was no reason in the first place to propose that bill “as we already have existing laws to check the issue of fake news.”
Isah said there are similar provisions in the nation’s criminal code that clearly addressed some of the issues raised in the bill, adding that “the basic problem is enforcement, if enforcement can be carried out to the letter, they will see that there is no need for another law to gag the internet.”
Also speaking, NUJ President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, stated that the union did not subscribe to the anti-social media Bill and will continue to oppose it.
He said the union will present its position against the bill at today’s public hearing.
The CSOs numbering over 100 had also made public their opposition to the bill.
A total of 110 Civil Society Groups had at a meeting in Abuja last week rejected the Senate’s move to hold a public hearing on the contentious anti-social media Bill.
Mrs. Bukky Shonibare of Girl Child Africa, who spoke on behalf of the CSOs, said the bill is a resuscitation of an obnoxious bill that had been hitherto unanimously rejected by the people.
She said it has been affirmed severally in various courts of law that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional and fundamental right inviolable under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The bill, which seeks protection from internet manipulation and falsehood, prescribes a three year jail term and N10 million fine for individuals and corporate organisations that breach its provisions when signed into law.