On the 27th of 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 his press briefing, Lai Mohammed stated that the l has no intention of shutting down social media undemocratically, that the country only needs technology and resources to dominate the social media space.
Why Government Want Regulation of Social Media
For the federal government, social media regulation is an attempt to prevent chaos and future conflict in the country. According to the Minister of Information and Culture, who has been the leading voice for the government, he said “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 said that hate speeches on social media-fueled and aggravated the EndSars protests, hence the need to regulate and prevent further chaos.
However, the government has also used the easy spread of fake news through social media to justify their point. For them, they want to prevent the purveyors of fake news to use social media to destabilize the country.
According to the Vanguard Newspaper, the minister warned that the next war that will be fought in the country and across the world, maybe provoked by misinformation on social media, he also identifies that the biggest challenge facing the country presently is fake news and misinformation.
Taking implemented steps, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture had 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
Social media regulation could be regarded as an issue that repeated itself. 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 sanction for social media posts that is contrary to the proposed law.
Also, in 2017, there was a visitation in the issue, when the National Council on Information headed by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, recommended the “setting up of a council to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria. Premium Times reported that the council then recommended the use of stringent measures in checking conventional media and their programs and that there should be the immediate killing 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 set abuzz again 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 was late met with some wide criticisms and oppositions from some lawmakers and many Nigerians.
Nigerians Disagree, Raises Alarm
This latest attempt by the Nigerian government has met with the displeasure of many Nigerians. Though the Federal government, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, has no intention of shutting down social media. He said We did not at any time say that we will shut down the social media. Social media has come to stay and it will be an antithesis to democracy to shut it down because it is the fastest way of disseminating information”. But taking into consideration what prompted the recently concluded #EndSars protest, some have started expressing their reactions with the #SayNoToSocialMedia hashtag on social media platforms.
According to Sahara Reporters, many Nigerians said it is an act of irresponsibility on the part of the federal government to plan the regulation of social media because it is a plan to deprive them of their fundamental rights which is contravening the very important provision of 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 Federal government in a chat with The Guardian, 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.