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Nigerians fault government’s plan to regulate social media

By Margaret Mwantok and Sunday Aikulola
19 November 2019   |   3:09 am
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said there was no going back on the government’s plan to regulate social media in Nigeria to deter hate speech.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said there was no going back on the government’s plan to regulate social media in Nigeria to deter hate speech.

Mr. Mohammed said this at a session with the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers in Abuja, saying that critics would not discourage government.

But Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Guilds of Editor (NGE), Ken Ugbechie in a chat with The Guardian said the government cannot regulate social media in that manner, as what it was doing was wrong.

According to him, “Social media is not a Nigerian invention. As it is called, it is social media, it is built, invented and configured by its progenitors for purposes of networking, social engagements, purposes of enlarging and deepening the discourse space so that humanity can communicate effectively with one another.

“Though it has advantages and disadvantages. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and I have always insisted that it is only a government that is afraid of the multitudes of skeletons in its cupboard that should be threatened about social media.”

He pointed out that the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of speech, which is fundamental human rights. He said, “Anybody doing the contrary is contravening this very important provision of the 1999 constitution as amended, that is what the government of Nigeria is doing now and still want to keep doing. They are trying to gag the press.

“The actual target is not just individuals but the Nigerian media and professionals operating within the Nigerian media ecosystem. We must never lose sight of this and that is why I urge every right thinking journalist whether online, print or electronic to rise up against this because it is draconian and not part of the African Charter on human rights, which promotes freedom of expression as guaranteed also in the Nigerian constitution.

“You cannot regulate my thoughts, I have the right to say nonsense and when what I say injures your reputation, please go to the court of law. Now we have an avalanche of laws that guides things like defamation of character. They should be bold enough to test these laws. They have been to court several times and they have discovered they are not getting what they want from the courts because no reasonable judge will give judgment that contravenes the constitution. Every court of law has always respected the constitution.”

Ugbechie advised the government to engage with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others to suggest ways they could assist and not regulate the thought of the people.

He said further, “You can’t stop people from thinking. At the level of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, we are not against freedom of expression because the constitution guarantees us that Section 22 of the Nigerian constitution 1999 as amended gave the Nigerian media professions the right to disseminate information without interference. What the Nigerian government is trying to do is to interfere which is contrary to the dictates of the Nigerian constitution and we stand against it.”
Recall that the Senate recently introduced a bill to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria. The sponsor of the bill said it would curb fake news on the internet. Tagged ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’, the bill was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa. A similar anti-social media bill introduced by the previous eighth Senate sparked outrage across the country and was later withdrawn.

With Nigerians accusing the present government of plotting to muzzle free speech, the minister said the uproar would not stop the government from introducing regulation.

“People are using traditional media to criticise the administration. Why not? This is a democracy and there should be a plurality of opinions.

“But our concern has to do with the abuse of social media by those who are bent on spreading fake news and hate speech, and the dangers inherent in that are for our national peace and unity. We have no hidden agenda.

“As I have said many times, no responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration.”

However, he said the government was yet to come out with the modalities for the sanitization.

“It is, therefore, premature for anyone to say ‘Oh, there are enough laws already to deal with social media deviants’. In essence, the committee we plan to set up will determine the best option for us to use.”

The minister said there were many options open to the government in regulating social media besides enacting new laws.
“Let me say, straight on, that the intense debate – and the debate has indeed been intense – that has been generated by our announcement is a welcome development. This is because the announcement has pushed the issue of social media to the front burner. We can only benefit from such a debate.

“We have been monitoring the debate. Some analysts and commentators have supported our plan, while others have opposed it.

“An interesting part of the debate has been that even those who oppose the regulation have acknowledged the dangers inherent in the irresponsible use of social media, especially by anarchists and non-patriots. We thank everyone who has spoken out, and we hope the debate will continue.”

The minister said other countries involved in similar things include Germany, the UK, Singapore, China, South Korea, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia.