Yesterday was World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. It was also the day our dearly beloved Nigerian Senate decided that perhaps that Social Media Bill just couldn’t fly.

In case you don’t know what this Bill is about, it required citizens to have accompanying affidavits before they could submit a petition to the government. This means it would have been more expensive and tedious to submit a petition – but that’s not what got people mad.

What got people mad was that the Bill went on to exact (very) extreme penalties for tweets or messages that contain false/malicious statements about a wide range of actors from a group of persons to an institution of government (read: “public office holders”). I’m talking extreme like a fine of N2,000,000 or two years imprisonment.

Obviously, this Bill was against freedom of expression on the Internet and the use of messaging apps like WhatsApp (what is up with governments and WhatsApp?). Officially titled “Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition) Bill, 2015”, the bill had already passed through the first and second reading. But yesterday, a voice a reason came in to stop the madness.

Although Senate President, Bukola Saraki assured Nigerians that the Bill won’t be passed, a few of us were still skeptical. I mean, the Senate recently rejected a Bill that was pro-gender equality – a Bill which should have been a no-brainer – because “gender equality will turn our women to prostitutes and lesbians”. Our Senate President was also relieved about the results of the hearing, because it’s one thing to speculate and another for it to become a reality

Freedom in the Nigerian cyberspace can be said to be a work in progress with much room left for improvement. Thankfully, there are organisations and activists that are working to ensure citizens’ internet rights are protected.

Yesterday, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria published a report on the state of internet access and freedom in Nigeria. That report showed that even though Nigeria has a long way to go, we also need to work together if we really want to achieve internet freedom here. 

I’m just happy that this Bill wasn’t passed. I mean, can you imagine having to go to prison just for ranting on Twitter? The fact that this Bill was drafted at all is worrying, but let’s take a few moments to celebrate this victory.

Tola Agunbiade Author

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