Details of a Bill, which imposes a seven-year jail-term for social media critics found guilty of inciting the public against the government were made public last month by the Senate, the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly.
The proposed law, which has already scaled the second reading in the Senate, also prescribes harsher punishment for internet fraudsters and scammers in Nigeria as anyone convicted of these offences will also face seven years in prison.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters and the Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes held a joint one-day public hearing on the Bill on December 3, 2013.
Titled an Act to Provide for the Prohibition and Punishment for Electronic Fraud and Crime in all Electronic Transactions in Nigeria, Section 13(3) of the bill stipulates that that “Any person, who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message, shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be sentenced to seven years imprisonment, or a fine of N5m or both”.
Declaring the public hearing open, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, who was represented by the Deputy Minority Whip in the Senate, Senator Abu Ibrahim, noted that electronic fraudsters pose a great danger to the country which must be tackled to attract foreign investment.
The Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Umaru Dahiru, also observed that electronic fraud was posing serious threats to world economies and Nigeria being a developing economy should enact appropriate laws to deal with the challenges.
However, the Bill was greeted with widespread condemnation on social media and mainstream media. A week later, it appeared that the Senate had bowed to public pressure.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Adegbenga Kaka, and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, announced to journalists in Abuja on December 10, 2013 that the controversial section of the Bill had been deleted from the Bill.
According to Senator Kaka, “The bill that I presented to the Senate, precisely on July 28, 2011, was a Bill to regulate the electronic transfer of funds and after presentation, by the time we got to the second reading, there was a remark that a similar Bill was tabled before the Sixth Senate by Senator Ayo Arise. I was then asked to go and rework my own and marry it with that of Senator Arise. In the course of doing it, a Bill for an Act for the prohibition of all electronic transfer, all electronic transaction fraud and electronic transfer transactions in Nigeria and other related matters was presented. It passed through the first reading, and the second reading and last week, there was a public hearing by the joint committee on judiciary and narcotics.
Senator Kaka noted that following the public hearing, social media practitioners took exceptions to the provisions of section 13 (3) and based on that, he promised to carry out some consultations because the bill as it is presently, “is no longer my property, it is that of the Senate.”
He went on to explain that during the consultations, it was agreed that section 13 (3) of the proposed Law could be abused at any point in time and could be misinterpreted and “As a result, I have the permission of the Senate leadership to announce to the world that that the section 13 (3) shall be deleted.”