SIR: Nigeria’s constitution, like international and African human rights law, protects the right to freedom of expression and provides that any restriction to this must be justifiable in democratic society. Nigerian lawmakers need to ensure the rights of everyone to peaceful criticism of the government without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanctions. The planned regulation of social media by the federal government will muzzle Nigerians, especially the fourth estate of the realm and sentinel of society. Social media applications hold leaders accountable by exposing corruption and policy failures.
If there is any lingering disagreement between the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Nigerian lawmakers, it is unarguably the federal government’s insistence on regulating the social media space. This is coupled with the fact that the minister of information and culture has for the umpteenth time reiterated that there was a need to inject sanity into the space as he has in his assessment concluded that it has totally gone out of control.
It would be recalled that on December 15, 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) together with 19 Nigerians, Africans and international organizations appended their signatures to an open letter addressed to Nigerian senators urging them to reject a bill they deemed capable of undermining press freedom, stifle public opinion, and criminalize freedom of expression in Nigeria.
Despite the fact that the social media bill suffered setback with 80% opposition at senate hearing in March, and notwithstanding the public outcry that has trailed the move even as at now, the federal government on Tuesday, October 27, kick-started a fresh campaign to regulate the social media space, especially in the wake of the #EndSARS protests that were largely driven on social media platforms.
Lai Mohammed, information and culture minister said that the federal government was obligated to regulate social media space to curb the spread of what he called fake news. He said the biggest challenge facing the country is fake news and misinformation, warning that the next war that will be fought in the country and across the globe may be on social media. While citing the recent #EndSARS protests, saying that it was fought on social media, he said: “They mobilized using social media. The war today revolves around two things. Smart phones and data and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to the radio or read newspapers. We are sitting on a time bomb on this issue of fake news. Unfortunately, we have no national policy on social media, and we need one. When we went to China, we could not get Google, Facebook and Instagram”.
At this juncture, it is expedient to ask, “Who is afraid of social media?” Only those ignorant of the fact that criticism is part of the political process, and that elected and appointed officials are answerable and accountable to the people are the ones that are afraid of social media. They are the ones that are ignorant of the fact that regardless of how popular they are, there will always be criticism even as there will always be commendation when they perform well in the representation of the people.
Again, it is equally germane to say that good leaders don’t fear criticism, and that it is only insecure leaders that are afraid of being criticized on social media. Indeed, the present APC-led administration won all its elections through criticism of past administrations of PDP on the social media. There is no need for any administration that cares for its masses here and in diaspora to fear social media criticism. We should jettison the idea of social media regulation and move forward.
- Adémólá Òrúnbon, Abeokuta, Ogun State.