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Senators, Reps on collision course over anti-social media bill; as House insists ‘we cannot close space for free speech’

The Nigerian senate in session
The Nigerian senate in session

The battle line appears to have been drawn between the Senate and lower chambers, Federal House of Representatives following the position by House Committee on Media and Publicity which, Thursday, carpeted the anti-social media bill proposed to the Senate, insisting that the House ‘cannot close space for free speech.’

The development appears to set the House and the Senate on a collision course for the first time in the tenure of the 8th Assembly.

This is also as human rights as well as labour groups have condemned the anti-social media bill, which is also known as The Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Related Matters bill, as sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, (APC, Kebbi South).

Expressing disapproval with the proposed bill before the senate on its second reading, Chairman of the committee, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, told State House correspondents after a dinner hosted by President Muhammadu Buhari for members of the House of Representatives at the State House Banquet Hall, Wednesday that the bill will not get the endorsement of the House.

“As Chairman, House Committee on Media, I must say that we cannot close space for free speech. “We would like to ensure that there is free speech. And the only thing we try to enjoin is that journalists, who are trained, who know the ethics of journalism, should also join the social media activity so that we can differentiate between the grains and the chaff.

“I think that is most essential, but we should not leave it for just those who think they can just post anything. “Ideally, I think it is very important that we allow free speech. With time we will get to the level that we can regulate. “For now I think Nigerians will rely on them. “We came on the platter of change and it was this social media that brought us to power and we are making effective changes on that; I think we should live with that.’’

It would be recalled that senate president, Bukola Saraki, Wednesday, denied that there was no anti-social media bill before the Senate.

Speaking after the Lagos Business School Dinner event, in which he was a guest, Saraki said “We have only debated the Principle of the bill, we have not gone into the details of the bill, so if there is any part of the bill that does not conform to human right, be rest assured that the Senate will do the proper thing. So there was no bill that was brought forward called social media bill.

“I think there is need for clarity on that and to let you know that those that led the protest, we have received their letters, we have told them to be rest assured that by the time it goes to committee work, and go to public hearing some of these things will come up. But you must understand that when those bill come to the floor of the senate they come as argument on the principle of the bill, and the principle of that bill was Frivolous Petition, nothing to do with social media but later on we did find out that there was a section in it about social media.

“That will go away when it comes to third reading when you start the third reading, where you consider section by section.

Campaign against the bill also took an new twist when the Women Empowerment Educational Network in Sokoto State, an NGO, Wednesday, advised the National Assembly to drop the controversial Anti-Social Media Bill and apologise to Nigerians. A member of the group, Hajiya Halima Baba, told newsmen in Sokoto, Wednesday that Nigerians expected legislation that would tally with the norms of political change direction for the nation’s optimal goals.

She challenged members of the assembly to legislate on security matters, job creation and poverty eradication, to enable Nigerians to feel the impact of democracy. She said that Nigerians were ready to prevent any move to infringe on their right to freedom of speech and issues affecting their well-being.

She cautioned the legislators on the dangers of passing the bill, adding that the electorate was more politically educated than before. ” We are politically armed with our Permanent Voter Cards and card readers, as rigging election is over as along as election process is concerned, ” she said.

She said the country needed legislation that would complement the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti corruption crusade.

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