*Global watchdog warns FG against plots to regulate social media
Right groups, Amnesty International (AI) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have called on lawmakers elected on the platforms of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) to reject a bill currently on the floor of the House of Representatives that seeks to gag Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-government Organisations (NGOs) in the country.
This is as the international watchdog warned that any attempt by the federal government to regulate use of social media is an open attack on freedom of expression.
The House of Representatives had last Thursday considered a bill for an Act to establish a regulatory agency for NGOs and CSOs in the country.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli, sponsored the bill, which seeks to regulate the promotion of social development activities in Nigeria and associated topics.
In his lead discussion, Soli stated that the bill’s primary goal is to establish the agency to ensure that NGOs and CSOs reach their full societal development potential, as well as to manage private-public development partnerships.
Further debate on the bill was postponed to this week after some members of the House raised an alarm that they were yet to see the content of the bill.
Subsequently, the House Speaker, Abbas Tajudeen, directed that the bill be stepped down so that members could read the content of the bill and adequately participate in the debate.
Making this call in a post on its official X account, Amnesty International charged the lawmakers to immediately reject the dangerous and oppressive bill re-introduced by an All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker, Sada Soli. It promised to vigorously oppose the bill.
The group stated that the bill is intended to “violate Nigerians’ human rights and gag civil society in the country.”
“Amnesty International calls on the members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives to immediately reject the dangerous and oppressive bill reintroduced by Sada Soli (APC-Katsina) to violate Nigerians’ human rights and suppress civil society in the country.
“Amnesty International is concerned that rather than passing laws that would guarantee and ensure the social and economic rights of the people, Nigerian lawmakers are pushing to take away human rights, contrary to the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) @Speaker_Abbas @HouseNGR,” the post reads.
It also stated that the bill poses a “direct and serious threat to human rights and would exacerbate restriction of civic space, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association as well as media freedom in Nigeria.”
On its part, SERAP tasked the minority lawmakers to reject the repressive bill, warning that it was an attempt by the government to crack down on human rights.
SERAP’s statement read: “Labour Party and PDP members in the @HouseNGR should reject the repressive bill reintroduced by the Tinubu’s administration and Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) to crack down on human rights and civil society in the country. We’ll see in court if this bill is ever passed into law.”
Over the years, the National Assembly has made repeated attempts to pass the bill despite uproar by members of civil society organisations in the country.
Activists have vehemently opposed the introduction of the NGO bill in Nigeria, describing it as a threat to civil society and human rights. Their resistance is rooted in concerns that the legislation if passed, could undermine the vital work of NGOs by imposing restrictive regulations.
The activists argue that the bill poses a risk to human rights, creating a platform for potential abuse and suppression of civil society activities.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has warned that any attempt by the federal government to regulate use of social media is an open attack on freedom of expression.
The warning came after Femi Gbajamiala, the Chief of Staff to President Bola Ahmed Tinuubu, said on Friday that “social media is a menace” that must be regulated.
Gbajabiamila spoke at Eko Hotels Lagos where he represented President Tinubu at the public presentation of a book titled: “Nigerian Public Discourse: The Interplay of Empirical Evidence and Hyperbole” authored by the former Governor of Lagos State and former Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
In his preamble before reading the message of the President, Gbajabiamila said: “Perhaps, and I believe many of you here, unless of course you don’t live in this geographical space… this is the topic for which I am absolutely very much interested – the menace of social media. Although it has the potential to reach millions all around the world, but (the social media) poses great danger, not just to the society, but even unintended consequences to the individual who is at the receiving end, including security of life.
“The question that I normally ask is,‘who do you hold responsible; the purveyor of the fake news, or the person who reads it?’”
Gbajabiamila said as Speaker of the House of Representatives, he attempted to make a law that will regulate the social media “but we were resisted very vigorously by the civil society. I think the chickens have finally come home to roost. And I believe we are all on the same page now. The social media is a menace, and it must be regulated.”
Amnesty International, in the statement yesterday, noted that the social media ‘regulation’ would pose a threat to critical opinion, satire, public dialogue and political commentary. It added that the regulation could be “easily abused” to punish critics of government policies and actions, saying that the government can arbitrarily shut down the internet and limit access to social media.
“Nigeria’s social media regulation? Social media users will be punished for freely expressing their opinions. The government can arbitrarily shut down the internet and limit access to social media. Criticising government will be punishable with penalties of up to three years in prison,” it added.