Business and Economy

Take decisive action now on the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 to safeguard freedom of expression – CSOs

Six civil society organizations (CSOs), namely Gatefield, Paradigm Initiative, ResearcherNG, FollowTaxes, North-East Humanitarian Hub and Anvarie Tech, have urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to take decisive action in amending the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 in order to protect freedom of expression. The Act, which was enacted to combat online crimes, has unfortunately been misused to restrict press freedom and expression due to its ambiguous provisions. This undermines the rights guaranteed by Section 39 of the 1999 constitution.

In a joint statement, Anvarie Tech, FollowTaxes, Gatefield, Paradigm Initiative, ResearcherNG, and North-East Humanitarian Hub called on the government to address these challenges by amending the Act. They specifically highlighted the need to focus on Sections 24, 38, 40, and others. The organizations also emphasized the importance of safeguards to prevent potential abuse, including the requirement of judicial oversight.

The CSOs pointed out that the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes online speech that is intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will, or needless anxiety to another person. They highlighted the misuse of Section 24, which has led to the unlawful arrest of journalists and others for their online speech. They cited the case of Chioma Okoli, a young mother who was unjustly arrested and persecuted for innocently sharing her opinion and experience with a tomato brand on social media. The ECOWAS Court has also declared Section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act to be vague, arbitrary, and unlawful.

The recent amendment of the Cybercrimes Act, prompted by cases like Chioma’s, has sparked advocacy efforts that have had a significant impact. Section 24 of the Act has been revised to explicitly prohibit the intentional dissemination of false or pornographic content through computer systems or networks, with the aim of inciting lawlessness, endangering lives, or promoting the spread of such messages. This amendment, along with others, represents a crucial advancement in safeguarding freedom of expression in Nigeria. However, it also highlights the ongoing need for comprehensive reforms to effectively address the evolving challenges faced by individuals and organizations in expressing their opinions online.

As Nigeria’s legal framework adapts to the advancements in technology, it is imperative that all fundamental rights are upheld. The right to freedom of expression, in particular, must be protected to ensure that citizens can freely express their views without fear of persecution. This recognition underscores the significance of a dynamic digital space that fosters open dialogue and embraces diverse perspectives.

Shirley Ewang, Senior Advocacy Specialist at Gatefield, further emphasizes the importance of this issue. She states that by fully amending the Cybercrimes Act, the Federal Government of Nigeria can play a crucial role in strengthening the country’s legal framework and safeguarding the right to freedom of expression. This will create an environment where individuals can freely express themselves, leading to positive societal changes and upholding democratic principles.

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