Recent call by government officials for censorship of social media in Nigeria has generated controversies. While those who oppose such move believe that any attempt to do so is denial of freedom of expression, others are of the view that it is necessary to regulate it following its abuse.
It went viral on the social media platforms with many warning the government to drop such plan. Some human rights groups also protested, throwing their weight behind the online community.
The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had revealed its plan recently to regulate the social media in the country.
This is even as the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku remarked recently that the social media community “are publishing reports capable of undermining military strategy against extremists, and stir mutiny within the military.”
He had insinuated that the government was considering some form of regulation in the use of social media reportage.
Maku’s statement was a reaction to the report by online media, particularly Premium Times and Sahara Reporters for exposing the government neglect on the Nigerian Troops in Mali as well as the violations by security forces confronting Boko Haram’s insurgency.
Similarly, the Director General of BPE, Benjamin Ezra Dikki who dropped the hint at the training of the bureau’s non management staff in Kuchikau, Nasarawa State said: “As it now obtains, all manner of things are uploaded on the various platforms of the Social Media without recourse to age and sensibilities of the users.”
Dikki, who decried the current practice where heavy restrictions are not placed on the social media in Nigeria, said the bureau exercise its authority to regulate materials uploaded on the various social media networking sites.
In the same vein, the head of public communication of BPE, Chigbo Anichebe in statement said “…In line with its reform mandate, the Bureau plans to initiate necessary policies and the legal framework for the regulation of the Social Media in the country.”
However, soon after the report, online users, various civil society organisations such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) and others protested , warning government that they would mobilise against it if it did not drop the purported threat of attack.
SERAP in a statement by it Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni said “any such threat can only continue to strangle freedom of expression and limit the accountability of government.”
“The 2011 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has underscored the importance of freedom of expression on the Internet, and urged governments not to arbitrarily restrict this right.”
“The call by government officials for censorship of social media is entirely unnecessary as social media has played an important role in educating the ordinary citizens about the performance of their governments, and on issues of transparency and accountability. Social media are important to the work of human rights defenders everywhere. Any attempt to undermine this work will be resisted by civil society through national and international legal actions.”
The group stated that freedom of expression on the Internet is a fundamental freedom, adding that it is absolutely crucial to citizens’ rights to communicate and associate, and to the enjoyment of their other human rights, including the right to know how their governments are run, and to hold their leaders accountable.
It further said that the threats against the social media patently offend patently offend the constitution and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments, stressing “Any arbitrary restrictions to freedom of expression including on the Internet through social media will be unnecessary in a democratic society, and clearly inconsistent with the conduct of a government reputed to have passed the Freedom of Information Act.”
In the same vein, the CSNAC said that the freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed under Nigeria’s constitution and any attempt by the government to censor news media is an outright breach of this right in violation of not only the constitution but all international treaties ratified by Nigeria.
Chairman, CSNAC, Olanrewaju Suraju in a statement said: “We commend these online news media and several others for their objective and independent position in the reportage of National issues and holding government and its officials accountable. The right of Nigerians to know is one that should never be undermined at anytime.
“We support these media as they continue to expose corruption, ineptitude and human rights abuses in private and public institutions. Their efforts are geared towards ensuring Nigerians make objective decisions on issues that impact on their daily lives.”
A user of popular online forum in Nigeria, Nairaland, whose username is Spacechuks wrote: “As it stands, social media remains the only medium to express our unsatisfaction in this country as our national and state televisions have become political propaganda to the government and owners. We are not going to keep calm until this country change for the better.
“Instead of these old people in government t with old and obsolete school of thought to implore ways to better the lots of Nigerians, they are misplacing their priorities.
“They have succeeded in hijacking the national cake and making it revolve round themselves and loved ones and now it is time to hijack the poor citizen’s mouth.
“If they refuse to give us good education, good jobs, good roads, electricity and water, let them leave our mouth for us for God’s sake for we are not slaves.”
Another user, Postiveminds also comment on the same platform thus: “So we should keep quite while the citizens’ sufferings linger? Expressing ourselves will be the only way for the world to know what we are passing through, we can’t die in silence.”
Notwithstanding, some analysts argue that there is need for regulation of what goes on the Internet to avert some dangers at this precarious time in the country.
An IT expert, Mr. Clement Okoye said: “I don’t think that there is any country that has regulated the cyberspace except China. Cyberspace is a global thing and technology is evolving every day, so that makes it difficult to regulate it. But there is need for the Internet users to exercise caution. I do tell people, especially our youth that the fact that you have access to the social media does not mean that you should post thrash, or make comment that is cable of disintegrating the country.”
Also, a teacher at Ogba, Lagos, Mrs. Yemisi Adebayo, lamented the rate of abuse, saying that the government should exercise some level of control. “It is unthinkable what people do on social media platforms nowadays. People post all manner of rubbish online in the name of freedom of expression. No, it is wrong!”