Buhari differs with Senate on Social Media Bill
• Restates commitment to free speech
• Online publishers caution lawmakers
IN what looked like a major public disagreement with the Senate over the controversial Social Media Bill before the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday reiterated the commitment of his administration to protection of free speech in keeping with democratic tradition.
The President’s reaction, which was contained in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, came against the background of the public hostility towards the bill now being debated by the Senate.
Shehu noted that the President had sworn to defend the constitution of Nigeria and would not lend his hand to anything that is inconsistent with the constitution, but added that Buhari was not averse to lawful regulation, so long as that is done within the ambit of the constitution which he swore to uphold.
“The President said free speech is central to democratic societies anywhere in the world. The President explained that without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues,” the statement said.
“As a key component of democratic principles,” the President acknowledged that people in democratic societies “are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might.”
Shehu pointed out that Buhari was fully aware of the public reservations about the proposed legislation, but said there was no cause for alarm “because the President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) has called on the Senate not to deny Nigerians their universally recognised right to freedom of expression.
In a statement in Lagos by its Publicity Secretary, Olumide Iyanda, the Guild said the draft bill to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith,” which passed Second Reading in the Senate last week, poses a threat to the freedom of expression and obligation of the media as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
GOCOP noted that the bill proposes up to two years in prison or a fine of N2 million or both for anyone who posts an “abusive statement” via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other form of social media.