Report: Anti Social Media Bill: What are the Senators Hiding?

This Day Report

It is rather perplexing seeing the commitment devoted to the promotion and near passage of the anti-social media Bill being sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah who represents Kebbi South senatorial district. Interestingly, the Bill has been avidly supported by several senators, led by Senator Dino Melaye, from Kogis State.

The Bill titled as  “Draft  Bill to Prohibit Frivolous Petition and Other Matters Connected Therewith” seeks to forbid social media operators from slandering members of the public including the lawmakers themselves.

Put differently, the Bill seeks to gag the press and intimidate the users of the social media.
The Bill not only prescribes two year jail term for offenders, it comes with the option of N2 million fine, or both sanctions could be applied.
Strangely for a senate that is largely lethargic in progressive legislation, this Bill, in no time, had gone through the second reading. Given the passion and zeal the sponsors of the Bill are applying, the Bill is just a breath away from being passed.
Perhaps, the fervent push for the Bill is understandable. For a chamber that is filled with many legislators with crooked past,  a chamber, which in just six months is regularly rocked by unedifying scandals, the need to rein-in the social media which is the untamed genre of the Nigerian media industry, has become imperative.

For one, the sponsor of the Bill, Bala Na’Allah, I understand, is facing a recall move in his constituency over some drug-related scandal in the past. He once worked with the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Considering the putrescent past of some of the senators, the push for this anti-people Bill may really be to scare away the media aperture from their past and present misdeeds.
Were it not so, the Senate would have realized that the Bill is not only unnecessary since there are many existing laws that control or protect the integrity and image of Nigerians, but outrightly obnoxious.
Are these senators saying they are not aware of the already existing  Cyber Crime Act, the laws of defamation, treason and libel?
Pray, what else is in this obnoxious Bill that is not accommodated by the cited legislation? Or is it that Na’Allah and his co-travelers just want to be seen as being active in the red chamber?
In plain language,  what the bill seeks to achieve is to  circumscribe  the inalienable rights of the people to freely speak as guaranteed in sections

Sections 22, 38 and 39(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
And because the intended legislation conflicts with the provisions of the constitution, which is the grand norm of the land, it stands to fail.
Na’Allah should have known that any law that seeks to unduly regulate the media will fail. He should have learnt from the experience of former Information Minister, Prince Tony Momoh in the 80’s, as minister in the Ibrahim Babangida regime when he tried to re-organise the media in such a way that the practice of the profession will be regulated by a Council. The move failed. In more recent years (2009), former House of Representative member, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had also tried to introduce some needless regulation in the practice of the journalism profession, a move that will displace the essence of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and even Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). Not unexpectedly, the plan failed flat.
It is even worse for Na’Allah and the eight senate that in an age where Nigerians are buffeted with too many challenges from all fronts, these lawmakers, the highest paid in the world, indeed devote time and resources to pursue a legislation that will vitiate the attributes of democracy.

Indeed, what else is left in a democracy that is devoid of free speech?
In the face of sinking economy, rising unemployment, devastating terrorism, religious and communal clashes, and festering ethnic/tribal secessionist agitation, our senators, the most highly paid in the world by one of the weakest economies,  is jarring their nerves on how to gag the press. Nothing can be a greater proof of betrayal of the will and trust of the people.
But is it not even ironic that these same senators, few months ago, during electioneering campaigns, mounted podiums to make democratic proclamations, as well as promise the people better lives and above all Change from the odious past?

How does gagging the media and throwing practitioners into jail fit into the promise of better life for the people?
These same All Progressive Congress (APC) senators climbed up to the power pedestal, through the use of the social media. Have we forgotten so soon, how the APC publicity machine revved high with the social media? Don’t we know how the APC Campaign Directorate hired some youths to launch an aggressive social media hype to market Buhari and the APC candidates in all the elections?  Have we forgotten how, with a tinge of propaganda, the social media was used to rout the then sitting President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? I recall very clearly how one of the loud pushers of this notorious Bill used to tweet some incorrect and fictitious information about the PDP government at the time, by claiming that certain damning stories or statistics about the Jonathan administration are contained in some pages of certain newspapers. On several occasions, I checked out the quoted pages and saw no such information in the cited newspapers.

What is even more, one of the backers of the Bill, Senator Dino Melaye, alleged to have continued to operate a foreign account, contrary to the law,  on one occasion, during the anti-Jonathan/PDP days,  once wore a T’shirt with the inscription “Government people sabi thief pass armed robbers”  (He posed with it on Facebook) What else can be more defamatory? He could have been challenged by a class suit. He was in Government and  now back in Government, is the declaration true of him: that he can steal better than armed robbers??
As James Hadley Chase would write, Only the Guilty are Afraid. Those with no skeletons in their cupboard need not be afraid of the media, social or traditional.

Those who hate and fear the media are likely to be those who are desperate to hide something they are not proud of.
As Jesus Christ once said, if salt loses its taste, it is no longer useful for anything, but to be cast away and be trodden under the feet of men. Is it for nothing that journalists are described as the watchdog of society? Of what use is the profession if it fails to watch those who are in the various levers of power?

Yes, I agree that being an online media practitioner is no licence for reckless conclusions and hack writing devoid of ethical restraints, but the overall intent of seeking to dangle the sword of Domocles on the head of practitioners is totally reprehensible and unacceptable.
Little wonder that President Muhammadu Buhari,  who himself gagged the press with his obnoxious Decree 4, as a military Head of State, has distanced himself from the present move to return Nigeria to the chained past. Rightly, he has declared that he will not assent to any Bill that conflicts with the provisions of the Nigeria constitution. And as it seems, that should be the end of the road for Na’Allah and his anti-people activists.

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