Nigerians took to the main entrance of the National Assembly on Wednesday, November 27, 2019, to protest against the anti-social media and anti-hate speech bills.

Armed with placards, they demanded an immediate withdrawal of both bills which are currently at various stages in the nation’s parliament. The Internet Falsehood and Manipulations(Social Media) Bill which is sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa, has so far scaled the second reading in the Senate.

Representing the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, Senators Uba Sani and Oseni Yakubu who addressed the protesters said that the bills would not be passed if they were rejected by Nigerians during the public hearing.

“We believe that your agitation is important. Some of us in the chamber have also been involved in the struggle for the enthronement of democracy,” Sani said. He went on to add that “Whatever Nigerians want is what the 9th Senate would do.”

Similarly, Yakubu agreeing with his colleague said that “the 9th Senate is not in any way an appendage of the executive. No single bill will be passed without a public hearing. We are here to make laws for Nigerians, not the Senate.”

A public hearing although not explicitly mentioned in some written constitutions all over the world, is one of the standard activities that a committee undertakes in view of proposed legislation. The committee invites witnesses such as public interest groups, lobbyists from industries etc. to appear and testify on the proposed legislation. 

In addition, the bill’s sponsor would be present to defend their proposed legislation. This public participation in law-making decisions promotes an idea of civil society and provides committee members with various public viewpoints concerning a proposed bill. 

The basic underlying principle of a public hearing is its openness and freedom of citizens to contribute to the legislation of their country. In view of a public hearing, Nigerians will be given the opportunity to rally their concerns on both bills castigating its restriction on their universal human rights (freedom of speech and expression), which the constitution recognizes. 

“I have no doubt in my mind that if Nigerians don’t want these bills, even though they are sponsored by our colleagues, certainly it won’t escape the public hearing. I can assure you we are going to do whatever is in the best interest of our own country. Sani said. 

Earlier this week, top Nigerian blogger, Linda Ikeji during the annual Alliance Law Firm Lecture themed leveraging technology to develop and rebrand Nigeria, added her voice to the anti-social and anti-hate speech bills saying “I do not support it because it does not benefit anybody.”

She went on to say that instead of the government threatening to imprison people, they could collaborate with Nigerian celebrities and social media influencers to “change the narrative on how people see Nigeria.” also, they can “push out positive news about Nigeria and counter fake news.” With this, there no would be no need for the proposed bills. 

Neither death by hanging nor imprisonment is the solution to curbing hate speech and the callous use of social media in Nigeria. The government should, therefore, focus on other effective measures that can eliminate inter-tribal hate speech as well as monitor the activities of its citizens on social media without infringing on their Universal Human Rights. 

By Treasure Nnabugwu.

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