Human rights activist and pro-democracy crusader, Senator Shehu Sani, spoke SAXONE AKHAINE in Kaduna on the social media regulation bill, urging Nigerians and the international community to resist moves to undermine democracy and return the country back to the dark days.
The federal government has initiated a social media Bill to regulate news dissemination in the country. Some Nigerians are saying that the Bill, if enacted into law, would gag the press, just like the Decree 4 promulgated into law during the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari military era?
The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) used the social media to mobilise support in winning the 2015 general elections. They used it to harass the last administration, unleashed propaganda against the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan government and to sell their goals and manifesto to Nigerians. But today, because the same medium is being used to hold the Buhari government to account and question power, they want to throw out the ladder they used to get to power.
The social media Bill, I suspect, has the hands of the executive and it is an attempt to silence Nigerians, to rule without question and to move our democracy into autocracy. The Bill is aimed at silencing opposition, silencing criticisms and silencing dissent. We are on the road to dictatorship in Nigeria. People in position of power are becoming intolerant and allergic to criticisms and the best way and best form they can go about it is the use of channels that have to do with stifling the social media. But I think we all should know that it is only by rising up against this Bill that we can protect and preserve our freedom and the rights to self-expression.
Section 23 of the Cyber Crime Act protects Nigeria and Nigerians against fake news and hate speeches. So, why do you need another law? Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) gives the media and civil society the right to perform oversight functions on the affairs of the government and the governed. How do you now attempt to limit the capacity of people to question power?
I think the government is jittery of criticisms. They want everybody to be silenced. If it is hate speech or fake news, there are laws there to take care of them. Why do you need another law? Freedom of expression and the press is a constitutional right; you cannot take them away from Nigerians. No government can take them away.
Recently, the President blamed lawmakers in the past National Assembly for allegedly squandering about N1trillion in the last 10 years, especially on constituency projects. What is your take on this?
Well, I would not be able to defend everybody, and 10 years is a long time. I would not be able to defend one decade of what I don’t know. I think there are two issues we need to look at. Firstly, what are the statistics the President was using? He cannot just generalise such a statement. If N1trillion was allocated for constituency projects from 2009 to 2019, was N1trillion released for the projects?
In this country today, only a few establishments get 100 per cent allocation for their budgets. An example is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Even the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) don’t get 100 percent of what was budgeted to them.
Secondly, do legislators execute constituency projects? Constituency projects are divided into two- construction and empowerment. They (the executive) don’t give legislators money directly to go and build hospitals or schools. They will tell you that you have money and the money is with so, so and so ministry or department and you should list to them, what you want them to use the money for. The money will go to the ministry or department handling the project. They are the ones that issue out tenders and give contractors.
So, how does a legislator squander monies not given to him? If you say the money has been wasted, the ICPC has been going round, if there are supposed to be hospitals that are supposed to be constructed, they should check and verify. If there are supposed to be schools that were supposed to be built and they were not, they should demand answers and refund.
But, it is ok. He has given the mandate, but we have not forgotten that in the last one year, ICPC has been going round and checking projects. So, I can tell you that the President was speaking from a misinformed position, because he doesn’t know what is going on. But luckily enough, since he said 10 years, he is not only referring to the 8th Senate, which he sees as his own enemy. Even if he says the 8th Senate, Ahmed Lawal was Leader in the 8th Senate and (Femi) Gbajabiamila was also Leader in the 8th House of Representatives. So, if the 8th National Assembly had squandered money, his own men who were there then were part of the squandering.