ABUJA, NIGERIA— The Nigerian Senate withdrew a draconian bill today that would have sent people to jail for their posts on social media. The bill was withdrawn after staunch opposition by Nigerian civil society groups, who rallied around the hashtag #notosocialmediabill. Fittingly, the Senate confirmed withdrawal of the bill in a tweet, even after two senators spoke in favor of it.
The Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill — which was popularly called the Social Media Bill — received a public hearing in the Senate earlier this year, paving the way for a final reading and eventual referral to the House of Representatives, the second chamber in the Nigerian legislature. It would have imposed penalties of up to N2,000,000 ($10,000) and up to two years in jail.
“This is a victory for Nigeria and free expression in the digital age,” said Deji Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “At a time when Africa’s largest democracy has committed to fighting corruption and combating Boko Haram, the bill would have criminalized reporting by journalists and prevented citizens from holding their officials accountable.”
“Legislators have listened to the dangers of vague laws that impose outrageous punishments for online expression,” said Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, Policy Analyst at Access Now. “Other countries throughout Africa should follow suit.”
Nigerian civil society groups including Paradigm Initiative Nigeria and Media Rights Agenda pressured lawmakers in the Nigerian Senate to drop the bill before it could be passed along to the House of Representatives. Access Now joined a coalition of groups to deliver a letter to the Senate stating our objections to the bill and its negative implications on free expression and the economy.
“By targeting the most popular and powerful social media platforms, this bill sent all tech companies the message that Nigeria is closed for business,” said Peter Micek, Global Policy and Legal Counsel at Access Now. “Legislators must work to extend open and secure connectivity, rather than sowing fear and threats among users, to continue developing an innovative and robust internet economy.”