A Lagos pastor and ally of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has said the government should look for ways to incentivise the “proper usage” of social media instead of seeking to limit freedom of expression.
A proposed bill officially named the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 would allow Nigeria’s government, if signed into law, to cut off internet access or block specific social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
The lawmakers supporting the bill say it will enhance security, peace and unity in the country by curbing the spread of “false statements”. But critics argue it could gag free speech, with many now speaking out via the very platforms they say are at risk of being curtailed.
Bakare has also joined critics to denounce the bill. He said he has been a target of “social media vitriol” but that is not enough to earn a support for the bill.
“I will not support the suppression of the most potent tool for citizen engagement in the 21st century through a misguided Social Media Bill,” Bakare said.
“Lest we forget, the 1985 locus classicus case of Arthur Nwankwo v The State already removed sedition from our laws and instead reiterated that a suit of defamation of character can be brought against those who abuse the right to freedom of expression,” he added.
Bakare said rather than gag the “expressiveness” of the social media, the government should “pass laws that will further empower our teeming young population” and work out “home-grown solutions able to compete globally in a technology-driven world.”
“To combat abuse, what we ought to do is provide incentives for the proper usage of this tool through reward systems that will encourage the honor code, promote responsible conversations, and discourage dishonorable use,” he added.
The bill passed second reading in the senate and has since been moved to the Senate’s Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for a period of further consideration.