Monitoring hate speech isn’t clampdown on freedom of speech

It was in August 2017 when the issue first broke out that the Nigerian government, through the military is, now, monitoring activities of its citizens on social media – for hate speech.

As usual, the development generated hot debates from those who know and those who do not (who, only, follow the trends in the society), including many members of opposition parties.

It was reported that after 48 hours of President Muhammadu Buhari’s return into the country – he had addressed the nation in about 30 minutes broadcast to which a counterfeit speech was, immediately, making the rounds on the internet.[1]

The president had, also, expressed his disaffection to many of the spurious contents published on the internet during his medical stay – abroad.

While it is good that no government should try to stifle the freedom to expression of its citizens; the media not gagged; and that there are oppositions who can speak out (serving as a form of checks and balances on the ruling government) – it should be made clear that if any, especially, the Nigerian government chooses to monitor hate speech on the internet (mostly, social media) – it is still within its purview of roles to upholding the unity of the Nigerian state.

This is, even, more germane due to the fact that ethnic hatred is on the rise in the country and the government must do everything in its power to forestall the breakdown of law and order – arising from incitement in the media.

Perhaps, many people do not know that government regulates the media, and that social media (though operates online and anywhere) is, also, an extension of the traditional media. Only that, all over the world, governments have not been able to find meaningful acts to regulate the online media practices.

Undoubtedly, the media as the fourth estate of the realm, is a powerful tool of positive changes and negative propaganda, of which many of its users do not know that misusing it could result into grave consequences.

According to the Chapter II, Section 22, of the 1999 Constitution of the FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (as amended, 2011), “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.[2]

The implication of this section of the constitution is that, social media is inclusive of mass media, and the government has mandated the users of the mass media to hold state governments responsible to their citizens (with strict restriction to the state policies contained in the Chapter II).

In the same vein, Qasim Akinreti (2003) describes Online Journalism, as the media share of digital revolution. It combines this with the core journalism skills of reporting, editing and news production, features and programmes.[3]

It is, therefore, pertinent that, every Nigerian knows that the government has the authority, both privilege and absolute, to regulate social media access in the country. However, the masses must not fold their hands where the government is trying to limit access to internet services, social media usage or participation in debates or peaceful protests that seek to put the government on its toes – towards discharging its duties to the citizenry.

After all, the Muhammadu led administration is, only, trying to regulate the social media for peaceful coexistence (it appears), unlike some other countries: China, Iran and North Korea which had (in times past) banned access to Facebook[4]. According to Business Insider, in an article titled, 6 Countries that Block Social Media, “In March 2014, Turkey previously banned Twitter in the face of government corruption scandals. Ankara had also blocked YouTube for 30 months after a video insulting the founder of modern Turkey was uploaded to the site”.[5]

Having been active on the internet over a period of time, we could say that the efforts of the government to extend its media regulations on the use of social media (in the country) is commendable. This is more so, as people cast slur at one another on the internet, falsifying information – that tends to incite the citizens against government representatives, and misrepresent the country before the international community.

The most spurious of them all are publications that, out rightly, cast aspersions on the presidency and some public figures (something of total disregards), whereas, the 1999 Constitution, in Section 23 says, “The national ethics shall be Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self Reliance and Patriotism”.[6] In that light, there is no discipline, integrity and social justice when anyone insults the personality of a public figure, government representatives: it does not, however, mean that citizens cannot criticise the actions of the government where and when necessary.

Also, it is awe that many of the Nigerian citizens do not know the extant of the media regulating law, and its, probable, extension to the social media platforms: this is made known by the hullaballoo that greeted the supposed action of social media regulations by the government, and it is an indication that Nigerians must seek to understudy media communication in order to be able to, properly, participate in social reformation activities.

In conclusion, government must, also, learn to upgrade its public relations game to ensure that it does not appear as dishing out draconian laws in any aspects of the society. This will ensure that the government carries people along – making them to realise the reason for which any action is taken: if at all that there would be protest, it would not be an elongated and/or progress disruptive one – borne out of ignorance, but the one that seeks to make the government more proactive in fulfilling its mandates to the people.

[1] The Punch, Military Monitoring Social Media for Hate Speech – Enenche.

[2] 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA & FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS (Enforcement Procedure) Rules WITH AMENDMENTS 2011, CHAPTER 11 – FUNDAMENTAL OBJECTIVES AND DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY: Section 22, LL30.

[3] Mudathir, Ganiyu & Qasim Akinreti, Multimedia Journalism: A Manual for Online and Multimedia Journalism Practice in Africa, Pg 14

[4] Wikipedia, Censorship of Facebook.

[5] Jeremt, Bender, 6 Countries that Block Social Media.

[6] 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA & FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS (Enforcement Procedure) Rules WITH AMENDMENTS 2011.

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