The Cybercrimes (Prevention, Prohibition etc) Act 2015 was brought into law to address crimes committed over the internet and ensure sanity in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) communications in Nigeria. The law seeks to punish the criminal activities of hackers, reduce incidences of internet fraud, protect intellectual property, ensure privacy rights, prevent cyber terrorism and much more.
Defamation on cyberspace is one of those crimes which the law intends to punish. Recently, cases of defamation have been instituted against a number of people and organizations who allegedly published malicious stories online. One particular case of interest is the ongoing case of Seun Oloketuyi and Chris Nwandu.
Seun Oloketuyi, a blogger, was accused of publishing a story on his blog (www.naijahottestgist.com) that the Managing Director/CEO of a bank had an extramarital affair with a married woman working in the Marketing Department of the bank, as well as putting up the sordid details of the purported affair. Oloketuyi was accused of intentionally sending information by means of computer system or network against the banker which he knew to be false, for the purpose of causing him annoyance, insult and ill-will, an offence which is contrary to and punishable under Section 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrime (Prohibition Prevention Etc) Act, 2015.
Chris Nwandu is a social media commentator who allegedly shared Oloketuyi’s story on his Facebook page and made some inciting commentary. He was also arrested and charged for being an accomplice to Seun Oloketuyi.
The bank MD had reported the matter to the police who, upon investigation, arrested Oloketuyi and Nwandu and charged them to court. One of the counts against Nwandu read:
“That you, Chris Kehinde Nwandu, acting in concert with one Seun Oloketuyi, on or about June 2015, in Lagos within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, did knowingly or intentionally send a message and pictures by means of computer system on your Facebook page purporting to be that of one… the Managing Director/CEO of…….Bank Plc, which you know to be false, for the purpose of causing him annoyance, insult and ill will and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrime (Prohibition Prevention etc) Act, 2015.”
Section 24 (1)(b) provides that when a person spreads a message he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent; such person commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7, 000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
While we await the judgment of the court in this matter in order to determine the extent of application of the new law, the case illustrates the dangers of posting unverifiable stories on the internet and reposting to one’s social media pages.
One might wonder, “What about my right to freedom of expression?” Although Section 39 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution gives every person the right to freedom of expression which includes freedom to hold opinions, to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, it is important to note that a person’s freedom ends where the freedom/rights of another is being infringed upon. This means that the rights of each person are limited to an extent by the existence of the rights of another. For example, the right to your freedom of free speech ends where it becomes defamation or assassination of another person’s character.
It would be advisable to exercise care in the kind of posts we put up on our social media pages especially from gossip blogs and sites. It is important to remember that while we exercise our opinions, those opinions should not seek to ruin/tarnish the image of others or cause them embarrassment. A person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, we should as much as possible avoid judgment in the court of public opinion. Another thing to avoid is direct copying and pasting of stories from unreliable platforms without due attributions to its writers or the source.