Social media bill: Nigerian lawmakers advise government on alternative measures

TECH DIGEST – Nigerian lawmakers have called on the Federal Government to rethink its planned Social Media Bill currently before the National Assembly and chart a different course that would yield a better result.

The lawmakers who spoke on Thursday in Lome, Togo, on the sidelines of the ongoing Delocalised Meeting of the ECOWAS Parliament, warned that a total blanketing of social media might cause more problems than good.

Newsmen report that the Parliament’s delocalised meeting has as its theme: “ECOWAS in the era of COVID-19 and beyond: focusing on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to promote distance education and training in ECOWAS Member States”.

The meeting brought together experts and members of parliament from the Joint Committees on Education, Science and Technology -Telecommunication and Information Technology, and the committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security, as well as Committee on Infrastructure.

Speaking in our interview with our correspondent, a senator, Biodun Olujimi, said a blanket ban on social media would be counterproductive as it would stifle information access.

She said that at a time when other countries were investing heavily to make the internet more accessible especially for education during the pandemic, Nigeria should be pushing for a better way to manage social media.

Exemplifying with a law recently passed in Ghana, she said that the government should rather adopt a system of blocking specific unreliable platforms.

“We need to prioritise as a nation. In Ghana, a law was passed last year to ensure that certain things cannot be downloaded from the internet and certain information cannot be passed.

“That is what is important. We do not need it to shield our people from information per say.

“However, we need to shield them from certain things that are unreliable.

“That is what we need to sit down and think through. When the Senate resumes, we will look at that, not to look at a general blanketing of social media,” she said.

Ms Olujimi, who also called for the internet to be made more affordable and accessible, acknowledged that there must be some control to ensure that it was not used for things other than access to education for which it was subsidised.

“For instance, in some countries, you can no longer view pornography, and that is blocking unreliable sources of information.

“That is what we need to do. We need to block all that information that are injurious to our nation and to the young ones, that will not help our development.”

Another lawmaker, Bamidele Salam, however, condemned any form of restrictions on social media, stressing that all the laws needed to regulate the space were already in place.

He said that rather than seek further regulation, the Federal Government should focus more on educating the citizenry, pointing out that a better educated citizen would translate to more responsible use of social media.

He said that the government already had adequate laws to ensure that the social media were not misused, and therefore advised that such laws should be better enforced rather than seeking new laws.

“I do not believe in social media regulation. I think if we educate our citizenry, we can use social media more responsibly.

“If you come by way of law to limit access of persons to the internet or social media, you will be creating new problems because then greater frustration and bottled up emotions will set in.

“But with education, you can help people use the social media handles more responsibly.

“There are enough laws today to protect the abuse of the social media, to protect online bullying, libel issues and so forth.

“They are all there. It is only the educational aspect that will help the citizens to understand they are responsible for whatever they do on social media. In fact, that is better than trying to limit access to social media,” he said