The media was awash with a story from the National Assembly some weeks ago. It was about a Bill said to be before the National Assembly to prohibit the use of the social media for abusive purposes. Many people, mainly the youths, have staged peaceful protests in order to ensure that the Bill does not see the light of the day.
I take the liberty to assume that our readers understand the sector of the media referred to as the ‘social media’. We have all keyed into the benefits offered by the inventions of the social media as a means of disseminating information.I, like millions of people all over the world, had the privilege of experiencing what life was in terms of information dissemination, before the coming of these technology-drive social media and what it is like having access to information these days. The world has indeed become a global village where distance is no longer a barrier.
As it is with every invention, people have abused the use of social media for ignoble, destructive and dangerous ends. The death in a Lagos hotel room of Cynthia in the hands of her supposed male friend whom she met through one of the social media, is still very fresh in our memories.
Earlier in 2015,I experienced the real pains of having one’s face book account hacked. These hackers had my account compromised and started sending pornographic materials to all my contacts as if I was the one sending them. Those who understood what happened sympathized with me. Some who have not experienced it simply insulted me. It was so painful. I had no choice than to close the account. They hacked into the new accounts I subsequently opened until I was able (perhaps temporarily!) to stop the ‘menace’.
Marriages have been ruined, relationships and age-long friendships have been badly affected by the negative use to which the social media have been subjected. Politicians and other professionals have been unfairly attacked in the social media. Distorted facts and outright lies have been peddled against people of good will. The experience can be really traumatizing.
The advantages of the advent of social media in all spheres of human endeavours are indeed countless. Governments the world over make use of the social media to reach out to the people. Hitherto dark secrets and shady deals too are known these days to the people. For us in this part of the world where corruption has become the biggest monster chasing development away from us, the social media have become a rallying point for galvanizing our thoughts about government activities. Any government that ignores the social media does so at its own peril. No wonder, the President’s men quickly distanced the Presidency from the Bill.
Law is often described as the instrument of social engineering. It is the law that regulates human conducts. The Yorubas have a saying which goes thus: ilutikoniofin ese kosinibe (meaning, ‘where there is no law which prohibits the doing of an act, nobody can be held liable for the act’).We must therefore not reject the Bill totally without considering the mischief it seeks to cure if passed into an Act.
Nonetheless, what becomes of the fundamental rights of the citizens must be of great concern for all of us.The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and right to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed all citizens by Sections 38 and 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) must not be allowed to be trampled upon. In the same vein, the right to private and family life of citizens must not be jettisoned by those who exercise their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
It was in realization of this that the same Constitution in Section 45 any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society- “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons”. The law must strike a balance between the rights of some citizens and the rights of others.
The concerns of those who oppose the Bill are not unfounded. They are deeply rooted in the struggle between the ‘strong’ which our representatives in the Parliament represent and the rest of us. The freedom to express ourselves is one of the few benefits we enjoy in a society like ours. Nigerians are now more actively interested in what is happening among our leaders who, seeing the docility of the people.
The proponents of the Bill must be reminded that there are already laws in place to check the excesses of the use the social media. They should not surreptitiously gauge the people’ right to freely express themselves. This is of course room for improvement. The citizens are equally advised to use the social media responsibly. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse!