The growth of the internet has been the biggest social change in recent history. The enhanced degree of connectivity it offers, continues to be the catalyst for growth.
The internet has not only enabled legions of entrepreneurs but also reduced the barriers to trade by allowing people from across the globe to communicate, co-operate and innovate like never before.
Through the medium of social media the internet can, perhaps like no other tool available to the modern citizen, help hold governments to account by giving a clearer voice to previously unheard.
Our nation’s growing reliance on cyberspace, to improve commerce and communication opens it up to an ocean of possibilities whilst simultaneously exposing its citizens to new risks and manipulation.
This includes, as already highlighted by the Minister for Information and Culture at the recently concluded extra-ordinary meeting of the National Council on Information, hate speech and misinformation.
We commend the National Council on Information for redoubling its efforts against the tide of misinformation that stifles the essential dialogue between government and the governed. However, it is worth considering some of the provisions of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention Etc.) Act No. 17 of 2015.
Under section 24(1) of the Act, a person who knowingly uses a computer system to send messages that are grossly offensive, obscene, menacing or he knows to be false for the purpose of causing danger, injury, criminal intimidation, hatred or needless anxiety has committed an offence.
Conviction of such an offence is punishable with a fine of up to N7,000,000.00, or a prison sentence of up to three years, or both fine and imprisonment.
Section 26(1) of the Act also makes it an offence to distribute racist or xenophobic material or to threaten or publicly insult a person because of their race colour decent or ethnic origin through a computer or system network to the public.
This offence is punishable with a fine of up to N10,000,000.00, or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both fine and imprisonment.
Strict enforcement of already existing provisions like these will aid in the ongoing struggle against those that would free-ride over our constitutional liberties without accepting the responsibilities that accompany the right to free speech.