Nigeria prohibits terrorist use of the internet or the dissemination of terrorist content in statutes concerned primarily with cybercrime. Nigeria’s approach to terrorist content online is based on the Cybercrimes Act 2015 which is the framework for preventing and prosecuting cybercrimes; this statute specifically criminalises the use of the internet for terrorist purposes and also prohibits the dissemination of various types of content. A new bill, entitled the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill”, and a commonly known as the “social media bill”, which was introduced in 2019, aims to curb the spread of “falsehood and fake news” in Nigeria. If passed, the social media bill would add to the list of prohibited content and impose new legal requirements on tech platforms. It would additionally increase the existing limitations on freedom of expression online in Nigeria, self-censorship among them, and introduce harsh criminal penalties for ill-defined offences.
Nigeria’s regulatory framework:
Relevant national bodies:
Key takeaways for tech platforms:
Social media bill
Tech Against Terrorism’s analysis and commentary:
Freedom of Expression
The Cybercrimes Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act have reportedly been used to limit freedom of expression in Nigeria.15Amnesty International (2019), Nigeria: Bills on hate speech and social media are dangerous attacks on freedom of expression. According to Freedom House’s 2021 report on Nigeria, the Cybercrimes Act has been used to arrest bloggers for posting critical content in 2021.16Freedom House (2021), Nigeria: Freedom on the Net 2021 The repeated arrests of users for their online activities under the Cybercrimes Act have resulted in increasing self-censorship, particularly among professional journalists who publish content online. According to Freedom House’s 2021 report on Nigeria, the Cybercrimes Act has been used to arrest bloggers for posting critical content in 2021.17Freedom House (2021), Nigeria: Freedom on the Net 2021
The proposed “social media bill”, similarly risks infringing on users’ rights and freedom of expression. The bill was introduced in 2019, passing the first parliamentary reading on 5 November 2019, and the second reading on 20 October 2020. However, it was met with considerable opposition and criticism due to its potentially corrosive effects on democracy. There were particular concerns that the bill is capable of silencing political dissent and non-violent political speech in the Nigeria.18Amnesty International (2019), Nigeria: Bills on hate speech and social media are dangerous attacks on freedom of expression. This is due to the “overbroad provisions that unduly restrict access to use of social media” and seems designed to limit freedom of expression19Amnesty International (2019), Nigeria: Bills on hate speech and social media are dangerous attacks on freedom of expression.. An example of this is the prohibition on users against transmitting statements which affect the security of any part of Nigeria; affect public health, public safety, or public finance; or affect Nigeria’s relationship with other countries. Such a law which could be used to punish critics of government policies and actions.20Amnesty International (2019), Nigeria: Bills on hate speech and social media are dangerous attacks on freedom of expression.
Ambiguous definitions of what constitutes harmful content can be abused to target legitimate speech and political dissent. Combined with steep penalties on platforms to remove harmful content, this risks the over-removal of content which could have major repercussions on freedom of expression online.
The Cybercrimes Act 2015 provides a framework for addressing cybercrime but contains broadly worded provisions that can be used to punish legitimate expression. For example, Section 24 of the law penalises messages that are “false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will, or needless anxiety to another” with up to three years in prison, a fine, or both.21Freedom House (2021), Nigeria: Freedom on the Net 2021 The offence of sending messages causing “needless anxiety to another”, for example, is very broad and exemplifies the ambiguity of statutory offences punishable with long terms of imprisonment and steep fines.
The proposed social media bill similarly maintains steep penalties, such as the failure to comply with the prohibition on transmitting certain types of content can be punished with a $826 fine or a 2 to 3 year jail term (or both) for individual users; and a $275,550 fine for corporate organisations. The social media bill would also allow law enforcement to order ISPs to disable access to online content, with non-compliance fine of up to approximately $25,000 per day until the order is complied with. Under the bill, law enforcement could also issue a “declaration” to offenders requiring them to publish a “correction notice” in a specific (printed or online) newspaper. Failure to comply can be punished with 12-months imprisonment and/or about $487 fine (for individuals); and a fine of about $13,000 fine organisations. There are particular risks to freedom of speech in the broad criminalising provisions which contain steep fines for platforms unable to moderate their services, which might make companies err on the side of over-removal. This significantly undermines human rights, particularly freedom of speech, in a country in which, according to Freedom House, numerous laws assign criminal penalties and civil liability to platforms for legitimate online activities in Nigeria.22Freedom House (2021), Nigeria: Freedom on the Net 2021
Social media clampdown
Besides legislative proposals, such as the social media bill, which are restricted to domestic tech platforms, the Nigerian Government exercised executive powers in June 2021 to ban Twitter. To justify this, the Government cited the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”23Sahara Reporters (2021), Twitter Has Agreed To All Conditions Given By Buhari Government – Minister, Keyamo. This ban was announced a few days after the platform had deleted a post from President Buhari’s account and suspended the account for 12 hours, stating that the video which was posted violated the rules on abusive behaviour. 24Freedom House (2021), Nigeria: Freedom on the Net 2021 According to Verge, a transcript of Buhari’s remarks released in October 2021, revealed that Twitter had reached out to the Nigerian Government to try to lift the ban. According to his remarks, a presidential committee had “engaged” with Twitter to address key issues, including “national security and cohesion; registration, physical presence and representation; fair taxation; dispute resolution; and local content,” and the Nigerian Government subsequently directed that the suspension be lifted, but only if stipulated conditions were met by Twitter.25Lyons Kim (2021), Nigeria says it will lift Twitter ban if the company meets certain conditions. The Verge According to an article published on 29 November 2021, Twitter has agreed to all conditions, but as of November 2021, the ban is still in place and a timeline for these conditions to be fulfilled is yet to be determined.26Adenekan Samson (2021), Why Nigerian government hasn’t lifted Twitter ban – Minister, The Premium Times, Nigeria