In every democratic country, it is the duty of the president to defend the constitution of the country, while the legislators make the laws; the judiciary, on the other hand, is independent of the other arms in their interpretation of these laws. The press is no doubt one of the essential pillars of such democracy and an integral part of freedom of expression as they act as watchdogs for the common man.
In the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended, Section 39(1) CFRN 1999 guarantees the fundamental Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. However, in present-day Nigeria, this right has continuously been infringed on as the press has countlessly been denied the right to express at freewill issues of national importance especially when it concerns the big guns and elites of the country without it being termed as defamatory.
Seeing the massive impact these online journalists are making on Nigerians by exposing their corrupt practices, these fraudulently engineered “big guns” have unwittingly fine-tuned the constitution making it an easy tool to intimidate and oppress online journalists in other to stifle open constructive criticism of governance, commercial activities and public conduct by Nigerians using the New or Digital Media.
The Online Publishers Association of Nigeria OPAN has however decided to bell the cat by taking the bold step to sue the Attorney General of the Federation over the heinous Cybercrimes act enacted into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Under Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes Act, it was declared a crime for any person to disseminate information through a computer, which he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, insult, danger, etc to another. The provision which on the face appears harmless and well-intentioned has over time been employed by the government, security agencies and high-profile individuals to intimidate and oppress Journalists, Bloggers, Whistleblowers and Public Speakers who constructively criticize the activities of government most times through social media. The execution of the law has also seen government security agencies and the Nigerian Police arrest and detain persons whenever in their opinion any criticism, analysis or publication offends them.
SecretReporters in its investigation learnt that between 2015 till date, many Journalists have been arraigned before the Federal High Court for contravention of Section 24(1)(b) of the Act for cyber-stalking and defamation. One of such persons is Abubakar Sadiq who was arrested and detained by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for allegedly posting “offensive publications” against the Commission and its Staff. The EFCC in their press release stated that he was arrested for ‘cyber-stalking’ for a publication he posted on his blog, “Abusidiqu” which was perceived as a direct blow on the image of the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Although Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes Act is in excess of the legislative intent of curbing cybercrimes. The provision, however, is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society as it is vague and capable of multiple interpretations and has only become a weapon against the right to freedom of expression and the press.
In every dispensation fair criticism is integral to the growth of democratic culture and good governance and the New Media, Digital Media or ‘Social’ Media has become an important platform or medium for expression, dissemination and impartation of information and ideas the world over and also a tool for checks and balances.