The Executive Board of the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) on Thursday, December 11, 2015 met with Bukola Saraki,the President of the Senate to discuss the Frivolous Petition Bill, which has been widely reported and labeled as the Social Media Bill.
Olufemi Awoyemi, the president of the organization, who was accompanied by a member of the Executive Committee of the association, Mr. Daniel Elombah; in his presentation to the President of the Senate, stated why his organization, along with a majority of Nigerians, disagree with first with Section 4 of the Bill – a provision that aims to criminalize false statements and the use of unsupported petitions on social media; and the general approach to the subject of online engagement in Nigeria.
Dr. Saraki in his remarks thanked Mr. Awoyemi for accepting his invitation on such short notice, and assured him that he remains an ardent user of social media platforms and reader of online publications, and he will in no way support any form of censorship or attempt to slow the progress made so far.
The Senate President used the opportunity of the meeting to explain the method of presenting, processing and eventual passage of bills to Mr. Awoyemi, especially a private member bill like the frivolous petitions bill.
He further assured the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) that the 8th Senate remains committed to the principles of fair, responsible and open engagement which the online affords citizens with the elected representatives, as records will show that this Senate has made good use of various online and social media platforms to deliver on this mandate and wish to do more.
Saraki also cited instances before, during and after the elections when social media played a major role in ensuring accountability in government; one the senate will ensure is sustained.
The Senate President assured the online publishers that the Senate has no intention to pass any legislation to control or gag the press, but encouraged the organization to do its part to ensure that international best practices are quickly established.
This is to enable the country increase its learning phase from the wholesome adoption of data communication and sift the real online publishers and journalists that follow the ethos and ethics of sound journalism practices from those that simply set up to use their platforms to extort and blackmail.
Awoyemi, in his response assured the Senate President that the organization is made up of credible publishers of online platforms and newspapers with online presence and it is modeling itself along best practice with relationships with key platform providers and value creators in the online ecosystem.
He also mentioned that efforts were underway to strengthen the industry, through a better appreciation of how self-regulation aids phases during a significant disruption in culture, social interaction and change in practices as Nigeria embarked on since we deregularised the telecommunications industry.
In OPAN’s assessment, Mr. Awoyemi noted; the legislature remains critical to how Nigeria quickly harnesses the potentials of online technology and use of social media as a critical component of citizen engagement and governance practice improvements.
To achieve this, OPA Nigeria sees a link between constitutionally provided for “freedom of expression” and responsible conduct and engagement by users and publishers.
According to him, to aid the process, the association agreed to share its research into aspects of our legal system that keeps online publishing and social media outside the law ; present areas requiring review and amendments of current laws that ensure responsible conduct across digital platforms which in some cases were as simple as recognizing the variants in existing laws around newspaper, radio, TV and digital publishing and broadcast.
Specifically, OPAN believes that the current conversation must not only be sustained but moved forward in a collaborative manner that builds consensus between key stakeholders, judiciary and legislature to enable the country respond positively to the discomforting aspects at this time, but more importantly, anticipate and create a desired future for ICT.
However, there have been reports that the bill which scaled second reading on Wednesday, December 2 2015 seeks to to censor social media.
According to reports, the bill seeks to give two years imprisonment or N2 million fine for Nigerians who post abusive statements on the social media.