On 27th October 2020, the Nigerian government through the Minister of information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, announced her plans to regulate the use of social media in the country. The minister who made this known during a press conference in Abuja said: “it has reached a level that the government may just no longer fold its arms and allow this to continue.”
During this press briefing, Lai Mohammed stated that there is no intention of shutting down social media undemocratically; the country only needs technology and resources to dominate the social media space.
Why the regulation?
For the federal government, social media regulation is an attempt to prevent chaos and future conflicts in the country. According to Lai Mohammed, “no responsible government would want the activities of social media capable of setting the country on fire to continue.”
In his speech, during his post-EndSars protest visit in Lagos, he mentioned that hate speech on social media fueled and aggravated the anti-police brutality protests, hence the need to regulate and prevent further unrests. Although, while many see this as an effort to shut critics and opposition voices, the government has also justified its position that the country could be destabilized through the spread of fake news on social media which has seen a surge in the country.
According to the Vanguard Newspaper, the minister warned that the next war to be fought in the country and across the world may be provoked by misinformation on social media. He also sought the partnership of the House of Representatives Committee on national orientation and information to track news streams for identification of fake news.
Not the first time
The social media regulation could be regarded as an issue of hot-discussion that repeated itself in Nigeria, most especially as the past years have witnessed a series of regulation attempts by the Nigerian government.
In December 2015, a proposal of “frivolous petition” was tabled at the National Assembly, which prescribed a jail term and $10,000 worth of penalty for social media post that is found to breach the proposed law.
More so, the issue arose in 2017, when the National Council on Information headed by the Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, recommended the “setting up of a council to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria”. The council also recommended the use of stringent measures in checking conventional media and their programmes and that there should be the immediate eradication of whatever posting on social media that is assumed hate speeches or fake news related by all information managers in various states of the country.
In November 2019, the internet was again abuzz with criticisms when the anti-social media and hate speech bills were introduced by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani, to criminalize the use of social media in peddling false and malicious information. Though the bill passes its first and second reading at the floor of the National Assembly, it later met with wide oppositions from some lawmakers and Nigerians.
Nigerians disagree, raise alarm
This latest attempt by the Nigerian government has been met with displeasures from many Nigerians. Although the Federal government, according to Mr Lai Muhammed, has no intention of shutting down social media as it has come to stay and has become the fastest way of disseminating information and shutting it down will also be an antithesis to democracy.
Yet still, some Nigerians are expressing their concerns with #SayNoToSocialMedia campaign on social media platforms. They said it is a plan to deprive them of their fundamental rights and that it is contravening the very important provision of their freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended.
The publicity secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Ken Ugbechie, fault the attempt of the government, and in a chat with the Guardian Newspaper he said:
“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.”