Nigerians React as Government Insists on Regulating Social Media

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Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, says there is no going back on plans to regulate activities on social media in Nigeria. 

He disclosed this at a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja. According to the minister, no government will fold its arms and allow activities capable of setting the country on fire to continue.

“I think It has reached a level that the government may just no longer fold its arms and allow this to continue,” Mohammed stated.

In the face of government pressure to regulate social media space in Nigeria, citizens have relied heavily on social media to call for better living standards for the Nigerian people, advocate for better governance.

For many, social media allows young people armed with data and smart phones the opportunity to agitate for reforms with notable campaigns like the abducted School girls to Save Bagega, a campaign that enabled Doctors Without Borders treat sick children poisoned by Lead in Zamfara State and a host of others.

But remarks by the Nigerian minister Tuesday, contradicts the Vice Presidents stance on regulation. Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbanjo only last week opposed the federal government’s plan to regulate social media.

“I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that we as persons of faith and we, as leaders, and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else, to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war.” the Vice President said in Abuja.

In reaction to Minister Lai’s announcement, Mr Ose Anenih, an Abuja based hotel development consultant and critical member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, told NewsWireNGR, that, Government does not have a role to play in regulating the social media space and for the current government to “Classify dissent as treason and protests as hate speech is disingenuous,”.

“I think what we’re seeing is authoritarian creep and the death of democracy – democracy dies when you show a disregard for constitutionally guaranteed rights like free speech; when you try to delegitimize the Opposition and their voices, and when you threaten to restrict civil liberties and muzzle the press”. Mr Anenih continued.

Nigeria has one of the largest populations of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa, with over 89 million citizens online according to the data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Most Nigerians, mostly young people have become more critical of government, in recent years, bloggers and journalists have been detained and arrested as a result.

An IT Consultant, Mr Henry Okelue in an interview with NewsWireNGR said he is “favourably disposed to some form of regulation”.

He said the decision to regulate will make only people who have evidence and can stand by what they have posted on social media to do so.

“It will bring in a level of accountability and will not take away people’s freedom to express themselves – Regulation is done in places where there is a real fear of abuse of freedom of expression,” he added.

The minister had announced that online platforms will be regulated, when he inaugurated a seven-man committee, to implement reforms in the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

According to Mohammed, the reforms that will be implemented by the committee, are recommendations approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Gentlemen, since we launched our reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to us, demanding that we also look into how to sanitize the social media space.

“I can assure you that we are also working on how to inject sanity into the social media space, which, today, is totally out of control.

“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.

But the Executive Director, TechHer, Ms Chioma Agwuegbo, a platform for technology knowledge exchange amongst women, tells NewsWireNGR, “this government needs to thank Nigerians for shining the light on hidden issues, all the way from #EndSARS to #SexForGrades to #BringBackOurGirls (one of the promises they rode into power on in 2015; the actualisation of which now seems like a mirage), and the other expressions of our lived experiences which we share online and offline,”.

She maintained that the insistence of the Nigerian government to regulate (read as clamp down on) social media should bother Nigerians at home and abroad.

“It is a direct infringement on our fundamental rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right which Nigeria ratified, and our constitution which guarantees freedom of expression”.

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