The social media on Wednesday went agog after an announcement from Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister for Information that the social media should be regulated.
“It has reached a level that the government may just no longer fold its arms and allow this to continue,” the Minister said during a press conference at Abuja.
This statement follows the uproar in Nigeria after the Lekki toll gate shooting by the military that claimed the lives (the number of dead is being debated by the government and Amnesty International). There had been protests nationwide calling for the end of SARS, a tactical unit in the police force. The shooting which occurred at Lekki toll gate in Lagos resulted in unverified news spreading around social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It began with false news on protesters who had allegedly died, including DJ switch, a social media influencer who filmed the entire event, Eniola Badmus, an actress amongst others. Among these was a parody account of DJ Switch tweeting that 78 people had been confirmed dead on the day of the shooting.
The news had incited violence as hoodlums took to the streets to burn down government owned properties and vandalised private properties as well. While some people have argued that the spread of the fake news could have triggered the irrational behaviour, others thinks that hoodlums merely infiltrated the protest.
Mohammed’s comment contradicts that of Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo posits that regulating the social media was not necessary and not the best way to handle the situation.
“I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go. I believe that we as persons of faith, as leaders and those of us who use social media actively, owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and war,” he said at the interfaith religious dialogue on promoting religious tolerance and acceptance organised by the United Arab Emirate Embassy in Abuja.
There had been speculations about shutting down the internet or regulating the social media in the country since the #EndSars protest. When Twitter suffered a downtime two weeks ago, some Nigerians believed it was influenced by the protest to shut people down. Many people in parts of Lagos complained about terrible network service from providers like MTN and GLO. It was a pointer to many that the country was taking time to shut down the internet.
In 2016, the Senate withdrew a frivolous petition bill sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah. The bill sought to regulate the use of social media and short message service (SMS) in the country, but many Nigerians found this obnoxious. The bill was withdrawn after the senate’s committee on human rights and legal matters advised in a report that the provision of the bill conflicts with some existing laws.
Many outraged Nigerian took to Twitter to criticise the minister for citing China as an example. He told Arise TV station that China regulates the social media and it accounts for the development and sanity enjoyed by the people. Not only does China not practice democracy, the idea of regulating the social media truncates freedom of speech as argued by twitter users.