According to a report by Punch, for using profane language on other people or pelting them with insults or abusive words on social networking sites, Internet users in Nigeria risk a jail term that ranges between 12 months and five years.
Section 18 sub-section 1 of the Cyber-Crime Bill 2013, which is pending before the House of Representatives, expressly states that anybody who "insults publicly, through a computer system or network" commits an offence and will be liable on conviction to imprisonment "for a term of not less than five years or to a fine of not less than N10m or to both fine and imprisonment."
Also, the bill prescribes a jail term of five years for anyone who circulates or makes any racist and xenophobic material available online.
Cyber-criminals, who hide under the anonymity of the Internet to bully, harass other users of online platforms also risk jail terms when the law comes into full force.
Section 15 of the bill, which deals with issues of cyber-stalking, prescribes a jail term of 12 months for anyone found guilty of posting messages deemed "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene" or messages aimed at "causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety" to another online user.
Besides, anyone who bullies, threatens or harasses another person, through "information and communication technologies" or posts messages online that contains "threats to kidnap or injure" another person will be jailed five years or pay a fine of N15m or both.
According to the bill, Internet service providers will be required to keep all traffic data and subscriber information for the purpose of prosecuting those suspected of committing cyber-crimes.
The service providers are expected to provide necessary assistance towards the identification, apprehension and prosecution of offenders, failure of which makes them liable to fines and or jail terms.
Part V, Section four of the bill prescribes the Office of the National Security Adviser as the co-coordinating body for all security and enforcement agencies when the bill becomes law.
One of the high points of the law is the prescription of death sentence for anyone who commits an offence against what it calls "critical national information infrastructure" which results in death.
Legal experts in the country have welcomed the efforts of the National Assembly to bring about a comprehensive law that will ensure orderliness on the cyber space.
According to them, the essence of such a law — coming rather too late — will go a long way in ensuring that people don't suffer from acts of defamation and damaged reputation on social networks.
The Chairman, Ikeja Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, Monday Ubani, says it is commendable that a law to regulate behaviour and activities which take place online is coming into force.
But he warns that the law, which seeks to protect the interest of people in the ever evolving virtual community, should not be wielded to restrict the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression online.
He says, "The bill is good for our democracy. The purpose of law is to regulate human conduct. It is commendable if there is a law guiding such a very critical area of our life that records advancement almost on a daily basis.
"Although it is coming rather late, it is better late than never. Many countries have enacted laws to guide activities online many years ago. It is commendable that the law is being contemplated. However, when the bill is passed into law, it must not be used to oppress the people. The citizenry must express themselves freely on social media.
"If the people are saying a particular government policy is not favourable, they still have a right to criticise the government online as well as agitate and correct anomalies in the polity; this is allowed under the constitution. Any form of clampdown on the people under the current democratic dispensation will not work."
He adds that Nigerians are free to challenge any deliberate attempt to use any law(s) to run against the express provisions of the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression by going to court to declare them null and void to the extent of their inconsistency.
Ubani frowns on the inclusion of death penalty in the cyber-crime bill. Noting that such form of punishment is no longer in vogue, he says the modern trend is not to kill offenders but to reform and make them better citizens.
"Why should they be considering death penalty for crimes against critical national information infrastructure? Meanwhile, some people are stealing billions of Naira and looting the national and state treasuries from every angle, thereby rendering many others unemployed and causing death due to the absence of basic amenities in the country. Yet, nobody has made them to face the death penalty," he adds.
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By: SAMOD BIOBAKU