,,,,,,,As Senate panel begins work on anti-social media bill next week
The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Friday said it would fix a date for a public hearing on the controversial Social Media Regulation Bill 2019 next week.
This is coming barely four days after the contentious bill passed second reading on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.
But, the Nigerian Bar Association and human rights lawyers, especially senior advocates of Nigeria, and sociopolitical groups on Friday vowed to storm the public hearing to present their views on the obnoxious bill.
However, the chairman of the Senate committee, Opeyemi Bamidele, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents on Friday said notice would be given to the relevant stakeholders because of the interests the bill had generated.
The bill seeks to make provisions for protection from Internet falsehood and manipulations and other related matters.
Popularly known as anti-social media bill, the legislation is being sponsored by the Senator representing Niger East District, Sani Musa.
Bamidele hinted that his panel would hold meetings with the sponsor of the bill, and the leadership of the National Assembly before convening the public hearing.
Only a former governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, spoke against the passage of the bill during the debate on its general principles.
Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah also raised a constitutional point of order to draw the Senate’s attention to the fact that the passage of the bill would be in conflict with certain provisions of the constitution.
However, senators Ibrahim Gobir, Elisha Abbo and Abba Moro, in their various contributions, supported the bill during the debate that lasted about 10 minutes.
The Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, put the passage of the bill for a second reading to a voice vote after confirming that no senator was ready to speak against it.
The majority of the lawmakers in the chamber unanimously voted in support of the bill and it was read the second time.
The senate president then referred the bill to the judiciary and human rights panel for further legislative action.
Bamidele told one of our correspondents that proper arrangement would be made by his panel to collate the views of the stakeholders and represent their views in his report.
He said, “Our committee would meet next week and fix a date for the public hearing.
“Because of the interest that the bill has generated by the public, it would be better that we give all stakeholders sufficient notice.
“We want an adequate representation of all stakeholders, particularly from the civil society.
“We will also, next week, discuss with the sponsor of the bill and the leadership of the National Assembly about the planned public hearing.
“We are going to give sufficient notice, we are not going to rush the process.”
The bill, if signed into law, among others prescribed a three-month jail term and a fine up to N10m for individuals or corporate firms that run afoul of its provisions.
NBA, SANs, Falana vow to attend public hearing
But the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), said on Friday that the NBA would attend the public hearing on the anti-social media bill.
Usoro said the association was making efforts to get a copy of the bill to study it and take a position.
He said, “We are looking for a copy of the bill so we can read and analyse it and once they call for a public hearing, we will be there.”
Falana also vowed to attend the public hearing on the bill.
“I am going to participate in the public hearing. We will appear to educate them on the matter,” he said.
Another SAN, Mr Seyi Sowemimo, said, “Anything that infringes on the freedom of speech is to be frowned upon. There are already laws in our statute books that take care of defamation, injurious falsehood, etc. To try to make it difficult for people to express themselves, I think the lawmakers should reconsider it.”
A former Vice-President of the NBA, Mr Monday Ubani, told Saturday PUNCH that the anti-social media bill was needless in the face of other existing laws, including the Cybercrime (Prohibition) Act.
Ubani advised the lawmakers to drop the bill, warning that it would portray Nigeria in a bad light on the global scene.
He said, “There is no value that the bill, if passed into law, would bring to Nigeria. Rather, it would take us down the drain as a democracy.
“The issue of freedom of expression is too fundamental a right and any state that wants to stifle it will not get any accolade from the international community; rather, they tend to suffer some level of blacklisting and deterioration.
“Already, we have enough laws that deal with the issue of regulation of social media. One is the Cybercrime Act. That law is comprehensive enough to deal with fake news and the like.”