A COLOURLESS SENATE AND ITS ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA BILL

The Eight Senate of the Nigerian National Assembly, 2015 to 2019, was very colourful and entertaining. It was a principled Senate made up of distinguished men and women who knew their onions, men who never compromised, who had some stuff in their brains, men and women who were no pushovers, and who had held their stand, no matter the consequence.

The Eight Senate was composed of mixed breed of politicians, people with eloquence and oratorical skills or prowess. There were also the philosophers among them, even the entertainers and the theatricals, etc. The Eight Senate had the likes of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribes, Senator Shehu Sanis, Senator Ben Murray-Bruces, Senator Kabiru Marafas, Senator Dino Melayes, etc.

These were some of the Senators who made debates in the Eight Senate very lively and entertaining. They were very serious-minded. Sometimes, they would throw some jibes, and everybody would start laughing. That’s what makes the world interesting and keeps it going.

Now, most of these faces have faded out in the Ninth Senate. They are no longer around, and debates in the Upper Legislative Chamber have become drab, monologues, colourless and uninteresting. Some people said the present Senate is composed mainly of the compromisers, the yes men and women, and that it is a rubber-stamp Senate, a branch of the Executive Arm of government.

The other day, it was reported how a tax bill had scaled through the First and Second Readings in the Senate without any Senator seeing it, much more debating it. When the Senate President was confronted, he merely told them to wait until it came out from the committee for which it was referred to. Now, that bill, the bill on the increase in Value Add Tax (VAT), from 5% to 7.5%, has been passed by the Senate with the speed of light!

Right from the time he assumed office, President Muhammadu Buhari never hid his disdain for the press. Through his megaphone, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, the President said he was going to tamper with the freedom of the press, particularly the social media.

He stated that they were going to “regulate” the use of social media, to prevent its “abusive” use. But they forgot that it was through the same “abusive” use of the social media that they came to power in 2015. There was nothing they didn’t say that former President Goodluck Jonathan did and did not do. They called him all sorts of names, which made him to be hated by many Nigerians. Yet, the man did not do anything against them. He kept mute.

Now, the same social media is haunting them. They have become jittery and uncomfortable. That’s why it is always said that you don’t ride a tiger, because it could later turn against you, to devour you.

Accordingly, they decided to package a bill, called “Anti-social Media Bill”, meant to regulate the use of the social media, which they had sent to the Eight Senate to enact as law. The bill scaled first and second readings, before the lawmakers realized the inherent dangers therein and decided to throw it back to the sponsors. It died there.

Not satisfied, they have brought the same Anti-social Media Bill” back to the Ninth Senate, and backed it up with another bill they called, “Hate Speech Bill”, which carries death penalty for the offender.

In spite of public outcries and condemnations, the “Anti-Social Media Bill” has passed First and Second Readings in the Senate and has now been referred to the appropriate committee. Being a pliable Senate, we all know that the bill would be speedily passed, when it returns to the plenary, in no distant time.

But why are our lawmakers pandering to the dictates of the Executive Branch of Government to regulate the social media? It is because they all are living in glass houses, so they would not want any stone to be thrown across their area. They are afraid that it is the media, as the watchdog of society, that will expose their illicit acts.

But why wouldn’t our lawmakers enact or pass bills that would criminalize “Budget Padding”, the “Abuse of Constituency Projects”, the “Extortion of Money from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)” in name of oversight functions, etc?

Why wouldn’t the lawmakers pass bill criminalizing 97% versus 5% rewards in appointments and the siting of government projects, pass bill on election rigging, using armed police and military personnel, pass bill awarding oil blocks without open bidding, etc?

Until then, we see the “Anti-Social Media Bill”, and the “Hate Speech Bill”, as mere hypocritic acts, myopic and self-serving.

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