OrderPaperToday – A coalition of national and international civil society organizations has written to the Senate asking it to dump the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions, etc) Bill, otherwise called Social Media Bill which seeks principally to muzzle free expression in the social media in Nigeria.

The coalition said instead of expending public resources on the bill, the senate should rather consider a draft ‘Digital Rights and Freedom Bill’ crafted by some civil society groups and forwarded to the legislature for attention.

In a memorandum to its joint Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Justice, the coalition also urged the senate to amend or remove the penalties under Section 24(a) and 24(b) of the Cybercrime Act 2015.

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The coalition comprises the following CSO: AccessNow; Co-Creation Hub; Centre for Information Technology and Development; CIVICUS; Enough is Enough Nigeria; Media Rights Agenda; and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN). The memorandum dated March 2, 2016, was signed on behalf of the organizations by Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of PIN.

In the memo, the coalition said the social media bill is “a dangerous encroachment upon free expression” and urged senate to “reject it from further consideration” in line with its argument that “the use of social media is a mainstay of free expression in the digital age, and criminalizing its use under the guise of “frivolous petitions” will adversely impact human rights while violating the principles underpinning Nigeria’s own constitution.”

On the requirement by the bill for any person submitting a petition to the government to have an accompanying affidavit, the coalition said such “would harm government transparency, making it more difficult, and costly, to complain about public services or graft.”

The memo detailed constitutional and international legal instruments to which Nigeria is subscribed to which collectively make the bill’s “overbroad language have a chilling effect upon free speech online.”
The coalition said further: “The bill criminalizes defamation against individuals or groups, as well as dissent against the government, with wholly vague and disproportionate restrictions that do not strictly pursue legitimate purposes.

“These fatal flaws fail to comport with international human rights standards and domestic law. The bill also presents unbalanced and short-sighted policy calculations. This bill cuts against Nigeria’s spirit of openness and support for a vibrant free press and an innovative internet eco-system.

“Journalists would be at risk of criminal penalties for reporting on public officials, silencing a crucial tool to combat corruption and encourage accountable governance. Already the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria has 15 million Facebook users, and its technology sector is rapidly expanding. This restrictive law will only harm innovation and deter investment.”

Editor’s Note: Readers can download a complete copy of the memorandum from the Petitions sub-section of the ‘Download’ page of this website.

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