Dec 2, 2020

The Legality Of The Social Media And Hate Speech Bill | Freda Odigie



Imagine being arrested for making a tweet on twitter or making an instagram post. The Federal Government is attempting to legalise the prosecution of anyone who they believe posts any statement on social media which they deem as hateful or fake. The “Hate Speech”and “Social Media Bill” have been a major issue for debate ever since the legislative arm of government introduced these billsin 2019 as an attempt to put a restriction to the use of social media in Nigeria. To justify theseproposed bills by the legislature, the President refused to sign the Digital Rights Bill which was a bill to protect the rights of Nigerians in the digital space.

 These bills drew massive criticisms from all sectors in Nigeria with the hashtag #SayNoToSocialMediaBill trending on Twitter as a result, the implementation of both bills were put on hold. However it gained a new momentum shortly after the #EndSars Protest when the Minister for Information stated that there is no going back on the Social Media Bill.

The Social MediaBill formally called “Protection from Internet Falsehood andManipulation Bill 2019”which aims to “prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and to enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission”” (see Section 1). It prohibits statements on social media deemed “likely to be prejudicial to national security” (Section 3 (b) (i), “those which may diminish public confidence” in Nigeria’s government (Section 3 (b) (vi). The Bill proposes these offenses be punishable by a fine between 200,000 Thousand Naira to 10 Million Naira and/or a prison sentence of 3 years (Sections 3-5). The bill seeks to permit law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable internet access to customers (Section 12 (3).

The Hate Speech Bill criminalises what the government perceives as hate speech particularly in Section 4 which provides for sanctions of life imprisonment and the death penalty if that supposed hate speech resulted in the death of another.

 

 

 

CONTRAVENTION OF BOTH BILLS TO THE CONSTITUTION

The Nigerian Constitution is supreme to any other law and any law that is in contravention with the Constitution shall be deemed null and void. The Social Media Bill and the Hate Speech Bill appears to be a threat to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and right to private life as enshrined in Sections 37 and 39 of the Constitution.The United States courts have reiterated their stance against the enactment of laws that criminalises hate speech as such laws are in violations of the right to free speech to the United State Constitution. An example of such ruling is the case of Matel v Tam (2017) No. 15-1293.

In addition, Section 26 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act 2015 makes similar provision to the hate speech bill but with lesser punishment such as 10 Million Naira fine or 5 years imprisonment so of what use is the creation of another law relating to hate speech so of what use is the creation of another law relating to hate speech.

The punishments contained in both bill are totally extreme moreso as the term “hate speech” is subjective. Legislatorsadvocating for the bill claim it is necessary in the interests of security, peace and unity but the language of the bill is one that creates discomfort and vague criminal offenses that would allow the authorities to prosecute peaceful criticism of the government.

CONCLUSION

With about 29.3 million users across Nigeria, social media is a critical tool for shaping public communication and enlightenment. It is true that social media could be misused at times however, everything in life has its advantages and disadvantages. The implementation of these bills would violateinternational laws protecting freedom of speech.

Some have used China as an example on their justification in supporting the bill. One thing they should realize is that China is not a multi-party democratic country like Nigeria is supposed to be. Threatening the freedom of its citizens is threatening the peace of the country.

Also, the lack of sincerity of this government is another reason for the massive rejection of these bills. You may recall that this administration is the biggest beneficiary of this purported hate speech as they were unfiltered with the heavy criticism of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.

One of the pillars of rule of law in a democratic society is the enforcement of Fundamental Rights of which Freedom of Speech is inherent. Regulating social media is like limiting freedom of speech which is antithetical to democratic society. Nigeria’s constitution, like African and international human rights laws protects the right to freedom of expression and provides that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society. If these bills are passed, the government will be empowered to shut down the internet as what they will deem hate speech or false news may be subjective or relative.

Freda Odigie is a Legal Practitioner at E.A Otokhina& Co.

You can contact her on freda.odigie@eaotokhinaandco.com


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