Calls for Protests and Demonstrations
The social media censorship bill currently at the Senate is obnoxious and condemnable. The “bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petition and other Matters Connected therewith”, which is sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah of All Progressive Congress (APC), is an attempt to suppress free speech and protect public officials from scrutiny. This bill, if passed, proposes as much as a 2-year jail term or N2million fine for posting “abusive statements” against government and political office holders through text messages and on WhatsApp, twitter and other social media platforms.
Also the bill is proposing that anyone who writes a petition against a public office holder or government institution must obtain a duly sworn affidavit at the courts so they can be liable for libel trial should their petitions be found to be false. This raises the question of who would determine whether a petition is false or not. Of course no one would dare expose corrupt political office holders when they know they could land in jail while doing so. Thus politicians are further protected from the public so they can continue to loot and impose anti-poor policies without fear of any consequence.
So far, the bill qualifies as one of the most brazen attempts to gag Nigerians, especially young people, from freely expressing themselves, criticizing government, resisting anti-poor policies and exposing the corruption and sleaze of political office holders. The bill also exposes just how inconsistent the anti-corruption drive of the government is. The implication of the bill is that while government is allegedly going after high-profile former political office holders mainly from the former ruling party, those currently in power are further protected from public scrutiny and opprobrium so they can loot in peace.
The Buhari-led Federal Government had better be prepared to build more jails. Nigeria’s working masses and youth have always, even in the period of military dictatorships, defied unjust laws and shall do so with all vigour in the current circumstance. Any law that goes contrary to the eternal principles of freedom and justice shall be defied.
We call for protests and demonstrations across the country until this anti-people bill is defeated. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), students unions and youth groups, communities, pro-masses organizations and civil societies must organize mass actions including protest marches and possibly strikes to show to the proponents of this bill that their attempt to take the country back to the era military dictatorship will be resisted. As military head of state from 1983 to 1985, Buhari introduced a repressive press law called Protection Against False Accusation Decree 4 of 1984 which saw to the jailing of two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, for writing newspaper articles critical of his government.
The current “democracy” was fought for and won by the working masses and youth of Nigeria under some of the most extreme and difficult circumstances. To then ask the people who fought for this hard-won but limited freedom to submit their liberty is akin to playing with fire.
It is particularly shameful that the very same politicians of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) who during the last general election benefitted immensely from the vibrancy of the social media, which was one platform through which people freely expressed their anger at the failure of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which had held power since 1999, are the same people now rooting to censor social media. Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West, is an active social media user and before he came to the Senate is known to have used social media, twitter especially, to subject the immediate past administration to scathing criticisms. The same Senator, who proudly flaunts expensive automobiles ways higher than his legitimate pay, is one of the most vocal proponents of the social media censorship bill. The likes of El-Rufai, now Kaduna State Governor, openly upbraided Jonathan’s government on social media including exposing the monumental sleaze and corruption of the government. In doing all of these, they also made many claims and accusations against the government, some of which could have been inaccurate yet they were not imprisoned for it. Now having used the power of the social media to clinch political power, they are not prepared to be subjected to the same criticism. The fact that the PDP senators also spoke in support of the bill when it came up for the second reading shows that there is no fundamental difference between them and APC. Indeed, Senator Ben Bruce of PDP who apparently speaks more on social media than in the Senate did not object to the bill as he kept mute.
And the reason is simple. The current elements in power only talk about change, in reality they are committed to preserving and running the same capitalist system and anti-poor policies that are responsible for Nigeria’s alarming inequality and backwardness. Moreso, with the fall in crude oil price and revenue decline, they are planning to introduce austerity measures which would inflict more pain and hardship on the working people and poor masses. But they remember January 2012 when few months after inauguration, a nationwide strike and mass movement almost brought down Jonathan’s government when he attempted to remove the so-called fuel subsidy and increase fuel price. In that movement, the social media played its first major role as a powerful tool for social mobilization. To prevent such an occurrence is the reason they are attempting to gag the populace through the social media censorship bill.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator (07033697259) National Secretary