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Knocks over presidential directive on monitoring of Nigerians on social media


President Muhammadu Buhari

The presidential directive for the monitoring of Nigerians on social media by the military authorities has received widespread condemnation from several groups and individuals in the country. The directive, many said, would directly violate the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and privacy online.

Leading the condemnation charge against the directive is Lagos-based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), which said monitoring social media would have a chilling effect on media activities in Nigeria, and pose a serious threat to the ability of Nigerians to meaningfully participate in their own government.

The group, in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, requested him to “use your good offices and leadership position to instruct the military authorities to immediately end any monitoring of activities of Nigerians on social media and to ensure that military operations comply with Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s obligations under international human rights law.”

In the letter signed by its Deputy Director Timothy Adewale, the organisation expressed “serious concerns that any monitoring of Nigerians on social media by the military authorities would directly violate the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and privacy online. Instructing the military to end any such monitoring would help your government to defend and keep to its oft-repeated commitment to human rights, transparency and accountability.
“Monitoring of the social media by the military is neither necessary nor proportionate, and could portray your government as working to control the political and social media space. Classifying legitimate exercise of freedom of expression as ‘hate speech’ is counter-productive, in exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and privacy, Nigerians should be allowed to speak truth to power and stand up for their rights.”

Also, Prof. Lai Oso of School of Communication, Lagos State University, Ojo, said it was an attempt to curb the hate speeches coming from the social media, noting, “We need to define what is hate speech, as there are some cultural inclinations to certain statements. This, to me, is an abridgement of freedom of expression and Nigerians need to be very careful of what they post on the social media.”

On his part, Director of International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, stated that it was not right for the government to take such decision, adding, “It is intimidating the media. The military said it is monitoring the social media for anti-government. What constitute as this? This is just an attack on Nigerians to stop them from expressing themselves, and it is not good for the government. This is capable of murdering press freedom.”

Also, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye of Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, rebuff the idea behind the directive, but called on Nigerians to be mindful of what they broadcast.

Publisher of Daylight, an online newspaper, Mr. Azu Amatus believes the directive is just rumour, which, according to him, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, would advise against being a media person himself.

According to him, “Nigeria is large; I see this as a sign of apprehension because this is not right in a democratic setting. Nigerians should be allowed to express themselves.

Furthermore, founder of Sabi News, Mr. Toni Kan, submitted, “Almost every country monitors citizens on social media. We are in precarious situation in Nigeria and desperate situations call for desperate measures.”

According to SERAP, “Monitoring Nigerians on social media would criminalise their freedom and the activity of journalists that are critical of the government and censor the media from reporting on sensitive and critical information that is relevant to the public interest but controversial to the government.”

The letter read in part: “While we recognise the obligation to protect against hate speech that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence, this should not be used as a pretext to clampdown on legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression that does not constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Blanket clarification of expression that falls short of expression that constitutes incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination under international law can only limit media freedom and chill discourse deemed controversial or critical of your government.
“SERAP notes that sections 37 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantee the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Similarly, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party protects Nigerians’ right to maintain an opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.
“SERAP notes the Human Rights Council Resolution 20/8 on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet adopted on 5 July 2012, which affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice. It further called upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries.”

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