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Protest against social media bill persists in Abuja

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FCT

There was heavy security around the Unity Fountain area of Abuja, yesterday, morning as protesters trooped out to demand that the Senate should immediately kill the Social Media Bill.

Addressing the media on behalf of the protesters, Convener of Centre for Liberty (CFL), Maryam Ahmed, said Nigerians were extremely concerned that the Senate has kept the “dangerous” bill alive, despite strong opposition to it by the people.

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According to Ahmed, the bill sponsored by Muhammed Sani Musa in November 2019 has remained a lingering threat to freedom of speech and digital freedom in the country.

Her words: “Today, one year after, the future of free speech and democracy in Nigeria is still at the mercy of a Senate that appears to be neither interested in publishing the report of the public hearing, wherein the bill was overwhelmingly rejected, nor willing to conduct a third reading on the bill where it is expected to be killed and buried eternally.

“The apparent lack of interest by the Senate to kill the Social Media Bill, which criminalises freedom of expression, suggests a sinister intent to pass it when Nigerians are least vigilant.

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“Despite several international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory, and developments within the last one year that ought to serve as enough reasons to kill the bill, the red chamber remains unwilling to do so.”

Ahmed listed some of the developments in the last one year as the ruling of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice that the 2017 internet shutdown by the Togolese government during the protests that engulfed the country at the time, was illegal and an affront to the right to freedom of expression; a similar ruling by a panel of judges of the Jakarta State Administrative Court that the intentional internet shutdown in Papua and West Papua by the government during protests in both provinces in 2019 was illegal and an affront to freedom of expression.

“These rulings are clearly indicative of the illegality and tyranny of any government that attempts to constrict citizens’ right to freely express themselves or through legislations like the social media bill, which, among other things, has been ill-designed to attack such vague things as “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” and promote incredibly repressive moves like an “Access Blocking Order” whenever citizens express their opinions. Expression of opinion is a fundamental right that remains guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution,” she said.

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