Nigerian citizens have since the assumption of President Mohammadu Buhari, feared the infringement of freedom of speech. The first of its kind was in April 2015 when Buhari who was then a presidential candidate banned the crew of the Africa Independent Television, AIT, from the courtesy visit of the Cuban Ambassador to him at Defence House, Abuja. This time, fear heightened as the legislators deliberate on how to muzzle free speech through an anti-social media bill.
The bill proposed a sentence of up to 7 years in prison or a fine of N4m for anyone who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message. It also doles out some years in prison or a fine of N1m or both for anyone caught disseminating “abusive statement” and/or anyone who “sets the public against any person or group of persons, institution of government or such other bodies established by law via any social media outlet. The bill has been interpreted by the public as a rather stringent approach against freedom of speech which the democratic system represents.
Reacting to that, President Mohammadu Buhari stood his ground in support of freedom of speech. In a statement made in Abuja on Monday 7th December 2015, through his Senior Special Assistant on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, the president said he is not against the lawful regulation, so long as it is done within the ambit of the constitution which he swore to uphold.
Garba Shehu further said that the President supports the fact that free speech enables elected officials understand public feelings and moods about issues in governance.
Meanwhile, some days back, one time finance minister Oby Ezekwesili, opposed the bill sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’allah, a member of the governing All Progressives Congress, from Kebbi State, saying that it is a failed bill as long as the Nigerian Society is concerned and as long as Nigeria still operates a Democratic system of government.
In section 22 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, the media was described as part of the fundamental objective and directive principles of the state policy. The obligation of the media as indicated in that section equally bestowed on the media, the duty not only to discharge its normal watchdog role in all aspects of governance and in guarding and advancing the frontiers of the people’s liberties and freedom, but also the obligation to regard itself as “the policing institution over the fundamental objectiveness and Direct principles of state policy as well as the citizens’ fundamental Rights”
Meanwhile, if the proposed bill is passed, the right of Nigerian citizens on the social media will be withdrawn, corrupt practices by political leaders will be heightened and the view of the masses will be taken away too. In a nutshell, such bill will hinder an inclusive and participatory democracy.