CYBER-BULLYING: A NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE

The Internet has improved global interactions and made the world a global village with the free exchange of information, ideas, skills, culture and technology. However, it also raises a number of personal security risks. Some internet users (for various reasons) prey on other users and cause havoc which affect not only personal interests but also commercial concerns.

This article discusses Cyber-bullying; one of the most common and deadly risks on the internet while also exploring the Nigerian legal regime for dealing with the menace.

Cyber-bullying is described as the use of information and communication technology, for the harassment or mistreatment of another. Typically, it is carried out against a victim who is distant; although in some situations the perpetrator(s) may be proximate to the victim. Examples of cyber-bullying include posting repetitive offensive comments or photos on social media and or creating fake online profiles to belittle another person. It sometimes involves death threats and “doxing”[*]. Because cyber-bullying does not necessarily involve physical contact between an offender and a victim, there is a tendency to downplay its effects; however, it can cause psychologically and emotionally harm to the victim[*]. As such, cyber-bullying, harassment, and hoaxes have been linked to teen depression, low self-esteem and tragedies of suicide. Cyberbullying is widespread, particularly amongst young people[*] and as technology advances, it creates more avenues for cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying under Nigeria law

As a means of dealing with a wide variety of technology-based threats, the National Assembly enacted an Act called The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015 Cybercrimes (” Cybercrimes Act”). The purpose of the Cybercrimes Act is to provide an effective and unified legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria. While not expressly provided for in the Cybercrimes Act, it criminalizes two specific forms of cyberbullying: (x) Cyberstalking; and (y) Racist & Xenophobic offenses. 

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is defined as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”[4]. The Cybercrimes Act recognizes five different forms of cyberstalking:

i.    knowingly sending grossly offensive, pornographic, indecent, menacing or obscene messages. [5]

ii.   knowingly sending a false message for the purpose of causing harm.[6]

iii.  knowingly transmitting any communication to bully, threaten or harass another, causing fear of death violence or bodily harm;[7]

iv.  knowingly transmitting a message with a threat to kidnap, or any ransom for the release of any kidnapped person[8];

v.   knowingly transmitting any threat to harm the property or reputation of a person[9].

The penalty for cyber-stalking varies depending on the exact form committed [1].

The Cybercrimes Act provides that a defendant who does anything, which he is prohibited from doing, commits an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N10, 000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment[11]. Finally, the court may also make an interim order for the protection of victim(s) from further exposure to the alleged offences[12]

Racist and Xenophobic Acts

The Cybercrime Act of Nigeria also prohibits cyberbullying of racist and xenophobic nature. Racist or xenophobic material is defined in the Cybercrimes Act as any written or printed material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual group of individuals, based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors[13].

Section 26 of the Cybercrimes Act criminalizes the intentional distribution or making available of racist or xenophobic material to the public through a computer system. The provision also includes people who threaten or insult other people publicly through a computer system or network, for the reason that they belong to a race, color, descent, religion, national or ethnic region[2].

Does The Cybercrime Act Cover All Forms of Cyberbullying?

The provisions of the Cybercrimes Act only extend to cyber-stalking and racist and xenophobic remarks which are only two forms of cyber-bullying. The wording of the Cybercrimes Act on these two provisions is not sufficient to cover the various forms of cyber-bullying existing in the world today. The law only prohibits information that is grossly offensive, pornographic, indecent, obscene, false or places another in fear of death, violence or bodily harm to another person. These offences are not broad enough to cover other forms of cyber-bullying such as mockery or trolling which need not be false, offensive or incite fear of death or violence.

As is the problem with many Nigerian laws, the Cybercrimes Act, especially its provisions against cyberstalking are poorly implemented as there has been no successful recorded convictions under these sections[3].

Cyber-stalking vs Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech and expression is a constitutionally guaranteed right of a person to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference[15]. It is clear that this right is limited by the provisions of Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act, which states that such ‘opinions, ideas, and information’ must not be obscene, malicious, or false. Such information must not also contain the threat to harm the property or reputation of the addressee. It is also apparent that the right to freedom of speech only extends to the limit that it does not cause harm to another person. The implication of the combination of both laws is that a person is allowed freedom to use electronic means (including the internet) to give his or her opinion on matters which are the truth and will not cause damage to the victim.

Ways to Curb Cyberbullying

There is no one way to curb cyberbullying, however, some online platforms have done well by providing outlets through which victims can report cyberbullying. An example is Instagram a social media platform. Instagram offers a few ways to deal with cyberbullying on its app as it has a Zero Tolerance policy for cyberbullying and harassment. Where an Instagram user is being bullied, the first option for reporting such abuse is to fill out a form on the website and report the said account.

It has been suggested that when cyberbullying happens, it is important to document and report the behavior so it can be addressed. A victim of cyber-bullying should not respond to nor forward cyber-bullying messages.

Conclusion

Cyberbullying is a phenomenon that has threatened to eat into the fabric of our social and psychological life as a society. The effect of cyberbullying goes deeper, it does not seem to stay on the online platform used but it rather follows the person victimized home, to work, to school. It trails the victim everywhere because it has damaging psychological effects.

The Nigerian government has done well by providing for an Act that protects people from cyberbullying, but a lot still needs to be done in curbing cyberbullying by providing effective means of prosecuting cases of cyberbullying and by making effective awareness in respect of the Cybercrimes Act in order to encourage victims of cyberbullying to report the offenders.


[1] “Doxing” means to search for and publish private or identifying information about a particular individual on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.

[2] Okoiye & ors. Moderating Effect of Cyber Bullying on the Psychological Well Being of in-school Adolescents in Benin Edo State Nigeria. European Journal of Sustainable Development (2015), Vol. 4 pg. 109-118 @p111

[3] Andrew Chan. Is cyber bullying a cybercrime? http://thenigerialawyer.com/is-cyber-bullying-a-cyber-crime/ visited 08/01/18 @11:53

[4] S58, The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[5] S24(a) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[6] S24(b) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[7] S24(2)(a) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[8] S24(2)(b) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[9] S24(2)(c) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[10] S24(3) The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015

[11] S24(4) Cybercrime (Prevention and Prohibition etc.) Act 2015

[12] S24(6) Cybercrime (Prevention and Prohibition etc.) Act 2015

[13] Section 58 Cybercrime (Prevention and Prohibition etc.) Act 2015

[14] Inibehe Effiong: EFCC, cyber stalking and the threat to freedom of expression in Nigeria Published on August 9, 2016 http://dailypost.ng/2016/08/09/inibehe-effiong-efcc-cyber-stalking-threat-freedom-expression-nigeria/ accessed 8th January 2018

[15]  Section 39, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended)


[*] Doxing – E.g. for offences contained in Section 24 (a) and (b), the punishment upon conviction is 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. The punishment for the offenses contained under Section 24(2) of the Cybercrimes Act upon conviction, in the case of paragraphs (a) and (b), is imprisonment for a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N 25,000,000.00. For contravention of Section 24(2)(c), the punishment is imprisonment for a term of 5 years and/or a minimum fine of N15,000,000.00. The Cybercrimes Act further provides that “…a court sentencing or otherwise dealing with a person convicted of an offence under subsections (1) and (2) may also make an order, which may, for the purpose of protecting the victim or victims of the offence, or any other person mentioned in the order, from further conduct which a.   amounts to harassment; or

b.   will cause fear of violence, death or bodily harm; prohibit the defendant from doing anything described/specified in the order”[10].

[*] The Cybercrime Act sets the punishment for this crime to be imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years or to a maximum fine of ten million naira or both fine and imprisonment.

[*] Many Nigerians are of the opinion that the Cybercrimes Act is being used instead as a tool by the government to hinder freedom of speech as there are records of people being arraigned under the Cybercrimes Act for posting information on social media criticizing the activities of the government and government agencies[14].

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