The vaguely drafted bill, officially called “An Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions; And Other Matters Connected Therewith,” seeks to prevent “false” and “abusive statements,” published through “text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any other social media post,” against any person or “institutions of government.” If passed, violations to the law would be punishable with up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“The Social Media Bill is clearly intended to deter free speech and institutionalize the crackdown on Nigerians who rely on social media to report government corruption,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The bill is a blatant attempt by Buhari’s competitive authoritarian regime to take away Nigerians’ most basic democratic tool for holding their government accountable. It should be withdrawn immediately,” added Halvorssen.
The Social Media Bill is sponsored by Bala Ibn Na'allah, a Senate leader from President Buhari's ruling party. The bill was first introduced in 2015 and has passed two readings by the Senate. It was discussed during a public hearing on March 7 and is now expected to go through a third Senate reading.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.