The Nigeria Parliament (Senate and house of Reps) has reached an advanced stage to pass a bill that seeks to criminalise the use of social media, (blogs, twitter, facebook, Internet service providers) to criticise and “incite” the public against the government.
It is titled Cybercrime and The Lawful Interception of Communications Regulations bill. Section 18 sub-section 1 of the pending legislation criminalizes social media critics found guilty of “inciting the public against the government by insults publicly, through a computer system or network”
The proposed legislation has scaled second reading in the upper legislative chamber but was stalled owing to a need to harmonise it with a similar existing bill. The bill as it is, infringes on the freedom of opinion and expression, which is an essential element of human rights and democracy. The proposed bill, if passed, will interfere with citizen’s ability to freely exchange ideas or hold opinions. Accountability and non transparency including corruption will flourish as citizens will be stifled from expressing themselves for fear of being arrested and tried.
The proposed law does have other noble objectives within, but most sections impinge on the freedom of expression and violate the rights to hold opinion or exchange ideas. The Nigeria parliament recently passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law that criminalizes same sex relationships and conduct and is therefore likely to pass the Cyber Crime law too. This will essentially truncate the gains of free speech and fuel corruption and lack of accountability.
CSOs in Nigeria need to engage the national parliament through the joint parliament Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and legal matters, Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes on the need to amend the proposed law and pass it in a form that protects freedom of expression and meets international standards.
This will be in line with Recommendations 134.42 and 134.53 made at the last Nigeria Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council in October 2013.