In December 2013, the Nigerian Senate reached an advanced stage of approval for a bill which proposed the following. Section 13 subsection 3 of the bill stated that: “Anyone who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be sentenced to seven years imprisonment or N5 million (fine).”
Now a new social media centered bill is making its way up the Senate approval chain.
What is interesting about the bill is the potential for censorship of free speech including online and via apps such as Whatsapp.
What Does the Bill Propose?
The bill provides for an option of N4 million for persons convicted of false newspaper, radio and television statements and N2 million for offenders of false phone text messages or messages on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
“Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio, or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, institutions of government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N4,000,000.00”,the bill specified.
On the social media, the bill read: “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
What Will be Done to Deter Abuse of the Bill
The bill said it shall be an offence for any petition to be submitted without a sworn affidavit from the law court.
“Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be an unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a duly sworn affidavit in the High Court of a state or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.
“Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.
“Any person who unlawfully uses, publish or cause to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.
“Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by dully sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N200,000.00 or both, “the petition read