On Tuesday, the “No To Social Media Bill”, a coalition of concerned Nigerians, staged a peaceful protest against the repressive media bill which is before the Nigerian Senate.
As early as 7:00 AM protesters gathered at the Unity Fountain, located near the Transcorp Hilton Abuja, carrying various placards bearing slogans such as; “No To Gag Laws”, “Freedom of Speech Is A Fundamental Human Right”, and “Nigerians Say No To Social Media Bill”.
The media censorship bill would jail for two years any person accused of making “false” statements about public officials and includes the imposition of major fines against them. The bill was sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah of Kebbi South, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The protesters carried with them a protest letter signed by the coalition’s convenors Aisha Yesufu, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo Atoye, Mukhtar Dan'lyan, and Dr. Ahmed Musa. The letter drew the Senate’s attention to section 39 sub-section 1 of the 1999 Constitution which states, “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas without interference.”
The coalition conveners backed up their petition with a threat to pressure the international community into placing travel bans on Senators and Nigerian public officials who support the bill. Last week the Diaspora of Nigerian Nationals Network (DNN) threatened Senate President Bukola Saraki and others with travel bans should they continue to support the bill.
Nonetheless, many of the coalition members believed the bill could be defeated.
“We are of the firm opinion that our request shall be adhered to and the process of turning this bill into law shall be discontinued,” the conveners said
The bill, if passed into law, will restrict the usage of virtually every social media platform including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Even SMS messages would be placed under the purview of the bill.
Across the country ordinary Nigerians condemned the bill viewing it as little more than an attempt to gag the ordinary citizenry. Activists across Nigeria called upon the public to speak out against the bill and any other attempts to inflict injustice upon the country.
President Buhari, through a statement from his spokesperson Garba Shehu, restated his position that Nigeria's democracy requires freedom of speech and that he will oppose any attempt to suppress that constitutional right.
The protesters attempted to enter the National Assembly, in order to submit their protest letter, signed by the coalition's convenors, against the bill. Initially, their efforts were halted by armed guards, however, the protesters were eventually allowed into the National Assembly where they submitted their letter to Senators Shehu Sani and Eyinaya Abaribe.