The Net Rights Coalition has raised its voice against the recent call for blanket social media regulation in Nigeria. The coalition, comprising of Internet freedom practitioners and activists across Africa, has expressed deep concern over the potential consequences such regulations might have on the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
The coalition’s statement was prompted by the remarks made by Mr. Dele Alake, the Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communications, and Strategy to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. During his ministerial screening in the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, Mr. Alake advocated for the reinforcement of regulations governing social media platforms.
Alake had emphasized the importance of testing existing laws to assess their efficacy and pledged full cooperation with any legislative efforts aimed at achieving this goal.
However, the Net Rights Coalition contends that such a stance poses a grave threat to the cherished principle of freedom of expression in Nigeria.
The coalition urged Mr. Alake, a seasoned media professional himself, to recognize the potential risks inherent in the proposed measures. The Nigerian Senate’s track record in initiating poorly conceived social media regulations, marked by attempts to stifle online discourse, serves as a stark reminder of the dangers that lie ahead.
The coalition’s statement highlights past instances, such as the Frivolous Petition Bill of 2015 and the Protection From Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill of 2019. These bills were met with widespread backlash from citizens, civil society organizations, and various stakeholders, leading to their eventual withdrawal.
According to the coalition, the principles of democracy, as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, the African Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other related legislations, uphold the pivotal role of both online and offline freedom of expression. This fundamental right facilitates inclusive governance and society by enabling citizens to share information, ideas, opinions, and hold those in power accountable.
In light of these principles, the coalition asserts that unqualified endorsement of social media regulation by government officials, ministerial nominees, or any other parties should be avoided. Instead, the coalition advocates for extensive consultations involving diverse stakeholder groups. By understanding the unique dynamics of the digital realm and safeguarding the civic space, the Nigerian government can align with international standards and protect human rights.
The Net Rights Coalition emphasizes that the current moment demands a commitment to inclusive lawmaking and respect for human rights.
The coalition includes prominent organizations such as African Academic Network on Internet Policy (AANOIP), Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI), AfroLeadership – Cameroon, Bloggers of Zambia (BloggersZM), Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO), Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative (DRLI), and DigiCivic Initiative.
Others include Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria, Junub Youth Action Network(JYAN), Kigali Attorneys Legal Consultants & Partners, KICTANet, Knowledge House (KHA), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative
Tech Project Women Initiative (TechHerNG), Zimbabwe Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Civil Society Advocacy Network on Climate, and Change and the Environment Sierra Leone (CAN-SL).