Social Media has gone agog with most Nigerians spitting fire against the Nigerian Senate because of the proposed bill “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Related Matters”. The bill, sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah (APC, Kebbi South, Kebbi State) has gone through first and second reading on the floor of the Senate. This means, after a third reading, the bill will pass into law and sent to the President to assent.
The main issue with the bill is what it states about social media and I quote, “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
Whilst many Nigerians agree that there has been a lot of frivolous news freely shared on social media, most of us would admit that in a democracy, any restrictions would most likely lead to censorship. Besides, we have laws that deals with false allegations, let those who have been accused falsely utilize the law to get justice, if they so choose.
My focus here is to mobilize as many Nigerians as possible to engage their Senator (and House of Representatives member). In doing so, we can get more details about the objective of the bill but we will use the opportunity to express our desire to have the bill stopped.
So, how can we stop this bill?
Know Your Senator: If we don’t know our Senator and House of Representatives member, we have no basis to seek the stoppage of this bill. To know your National Assembly representatives, visit – http://www.nassnig.org/constituency
Write to them: The act of letter writing to OUR representatives in the legislature is an essential part of our democracy. We at the Nation-builders Movement have simplified the act of letter writing for citizens. For more on how you can write to your National Assembly representatives, visit – http://www.thenationbuildersmovement.org/campaigns-2/
Remember, you can write to your Senator using their Twitter handle and Facebook account. Use all available channels to engage them so they are reminded that they are OUR representatives.
Visit their constituency offices: If we do our research online and offline, we will find the office addresses of our National Assembly representatives. We have a responsibility to visit their constituency offices to meet them face to face, find out when and where their next town hall meeting will take place, encourage them to regular communicate with us, etc.
Essentially, this action reminds our Senators know that they are accountable to us, not their godfathers.
Mobiilise other constituents and Nigerians to act: Democracy is a game of numbers so for us to gain influence, we need to ensure we encourage several other fellow constituents and Nigerians to develop the culture of engaging their National Assembly representatives.
A senator whose winning margin at the last general elections was 10,000-50,000 (which is the average range for most of them), cannot afford to ignore 5,000 active constituents with the potential power to mobilize 10 times their number.
Join a peaceful protest march: Even in advance democracies, some issues get to the point of a peaceful protest march to communicate the voice of the people. It may be that this bill will go to the third reading stage and when that happens, tens of thousands of Nigerians must be willing to come out of their homes and offices to march to the National Assembly.
Again, since democracy is a game of numbers, a good turnout communicates the power of the constituents to recall the Senator or vote them out at the next general election.
There is an urgent need for a mindset shift by our representatives and us the constituents. That is, OUR representatives in the legislature (local, state and federal levels) are there to represent US. We gave them the mandate through the election and that means, they are accountable to us.
This means, they are to consistently explore all available avenues to interact with us their constituents to gather feedback on what they are to present on our behalf at the legislature. Also, they are to take into consideration our views on national levels to determine their voting pattern on the floor of the house.
It is our responsibility to ensure that OUR representatives know they represent us and act accordingly. Are you ready to undertake the work involved?