The Frivolous petition Bill sponsored by Honourable Bala Ibn Na’Allah will continue to be a conversation among Nigerians until it is either passed into law or rejected. However Nigerians are not sitting with their arms folded waiting for nature to run its course, but are taking proactive steps to ensure that they always enjoy the freedom of expression they presently do, both online and offline.
Tolu Ogunlesi is one of those youths who is active on Social Media and intends for the freedom enjoyed on the online space to be maintained. One of ours, Lilian Ezejelue, sat with him to discuss how he intends to use his new position as the Special Adviser to the President on digital and new media to influence the outcome of the Bill.
Kindly introduce yourself.
My name is Tolu Ogunlesi. I’m the special assistant to the president on digital and new media.
First of all, let me officially say congratulations.
So everybody is talking about the frivolous petition bill right now. With your new position do you think you have the power to make a difference in the outcome of this Bill?
Well, yes, I think I have the… well the first thing to say is that no single person has all the power – no single Senator, no single Government Official, no single individual has absolute power. So when I speak about having power or influence, it’s still part of a larger picture, you know. I can play my part, based on my beliefs about how I think that the government should approach the internet, based on my views about internet freedom. I think I certainly have a part to play in lending my voice to the debate and conversation.
So what are your views as regards the bill; are you for or against the passing of the bill and what part do you intend to play?
I am not in support of anything that will attempt to gag or muzzle people’s opinion, on or off the internet. I am not in support of it, there’s no doubt about that and of course, the contentious part of this bill is actually Section 4. So we have to be a bit nuanced as well about it that this bill we are talking about – the part that people have issues with – is that Section 4 that attempts to silence social media. So I think my goal will be to make sure that… I mean I will not support anything that will attempt to gag or muzzle social media and this is a point that people have made, that we don’t even need that bill because there are already laws that take care of all those things that the bill is supposed to be taking care of.
There are laws against libel, slander, defamation and all that, you know, so I think that there are laws that exist, let’s make use of those laws. People who feel that they’ve been defamed or slandered should use the law, go to court. I, myself, I’ve been a victim of libel and defamation and I’ve considered going to court and that’s what I’ll ask people to do. Let’s not attempt to create any laws that gag or muzzle social media. Instead of attempting to control it, let’s do the same thing that we do with offline media, which is that, look, there is freedom of speech and opinion, but if anybody feels slandered or defamed in anyway, then they should be able to go to court and get judgement.
So, let me say it again, I’m not in support of anything that will attempt to gag or muzzle social media in any way.
What part do you intend to play to see that the views you hold about social media is upheld?
It’s an evolving conversation, it’s an evolving debate. For starters I know that I can lend my voice to the conversation, that’s one, and there’s also a part for me to play in the larger conversation about internet freedom and I think that we should be having that conversation.
I also have a part to play in that larger conversation about freedom of speech on the internet, but yes, largely by lending my voice, by collaborating with other stakeholders. I know that the Ministry of Justice is against the Social Media aspect of that bill, so it’s about by finding allies, in and out of government and working together with them to make sure that we do the right thing.