A Nigerian lawyer says the bill seeking two years imprisonment with an option of two million Naira fine for any Nigerian who posts abusive statements on the social media, was an attempt to foster speech restriction on Nigerians.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, Dr Ope Banwo said that “if you don’t like people talking negative about you, don’t run for public office. By holding yourself up to the public, you make yourself fair game and rather than them fighting to muzzle social media, they should go and learn how to defend themselves on social media”.
The lawyer expressed disappointment in the bill which had passed its second reading in the Senate.
“Actually, I was outraged and was shocked that the bill got to the second reading before I got to know about it. Obviously, they are trying to smuggle it into law and I felt that at this time of change in Nigeria, social media law is the last thing this government should be thinking about because it is the voice of the masses. The only place the masses can have their say and I understand there are a lot of excesses out there, but its power for the course.
“I am extremely disappointed and shocked that an APC led-government will allow this travesty to go on”, he explained.
Responding to the question on why would the Senators kill the social media which empowered them, the lawyer said “it is easy when you are outside criticising the man on the hot seat.
“Before they got into the position, they were willing to mobilise forces on social media and now that they are in, they don’t want people to talk about their excesses,” he said.
The lawyer believes that the social media cannot be regulated.
“Since the social media is not regulated in the US, UK and other countries I don’t think it can be regulated in Nigeria because its out of any body’s control. It is the last way a common man can say whatever comes to his mind.
“If on social media, you are accused of what you’ve not done, there are Civil Laws that you are sue them for every thing they have and I support that.
“Why do we need to criminalise thoughts and expressions?, he questioned.
“If we live in a society where people are no longer free to express their thoughts about their public officers, then we are back to George Orwel’s Animal Farm and 1984”, he said.
Giving his opinion on the alternative for the government to put statements on social media in check rather than outright social media control, Dr Banwo said owners of social media platforms had regulatory checks they had put in place.
“People talking about the proposed law are ignorant of the fact that social media is regulated by the people who run it.”
“If you post a picture of me that is false, I can report that to Facebook. Facebook has a button to report whether any post is offensive and untrue, within 10 minutes, Facebook will remove the offensive post”, he explained.