THE Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Gbenga Sesan has urged the Nigerian government to channel the energy directed at social media regulation to carrying out its main responsibilities.
He said this while speaking at a webinar organised by The International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) in collaboration with The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.
The webinar titled Should Government Regulate Social Media? was held via Zoom and had panellists and public speaking on the effects of social media regulation on a democratic society.
“The Nigerian Government should spend as much energy doing its real work as it spends on regulating social media,” he said.
The webinar video.
He said this in reaction to the position of the Director-General (DG) of the National Orientation Agency Garba Abari, who said that the government had to regulate social media platforms to avoid the disintegration of the country.
“In a society that is this heterogeneous, complex, big, both in terms of its population and landmass, it is important that what goes out of the country is something that will integrate, not that which will disintegrate a country that is already divided along religious, ethnic, cultural and traditional lines,” Abari said.
“Government must regulate the manner in which such platforms are used. Where social media allows itself to be used to cause disaffection, no responsible government would fold its arms and watch,” he said.
However, Abari noted that government should operate within its constitutional rights in managing cyberspace, stressing that social media had been used on different occasions to increase disunity and create unrest in the country.
“We are in an era of infodemic. All manner of information is in cyberspace. So, because the environment is such that has to be managed properly, the government must have to, within its constitutional limits, find a way of managing this plurality that characterises the Nigerian state,” he said.
The DG noted that while the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, there was no absolute freedom as corresponding responsibilities were attached.
He also said regulation of social media could be beneficial to citizens and cited the shutdown of telecommunications in areas such as Zamfara to tackle terrorism in the region.
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Sesan had disagreed with the DG, saying that Nigeria’s challenge was not social media and that the clampdown on telecommunication in some parts of the country had been ineffective.
He noted that some terrorists had access to sophisticated equipment, and terror attacks had continued within these areas.
“The problem is not social media. The problem is bad governance and impunity. When we are ready to have a real regulation, then we will begin to talk on issues about legality,” he said.
Sesan also stated that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the agricultural sector had brought Nigeria out of recession and accused the government of ‘cutting its nose to spite its face.’
He urged the government to desist from creating an atmosphere of fear and clampdown while other countries created conducive environments for innovation.
Also speaking at the webinar was Executive Director of Global Rights Biodun Baiyewu, who said while social media regulation was necessary to monitor content that could be harmful to the polity, the lack of trust between the government and the people was creating difficulties.
“There is very little trust between the government and the people. The government doesn’t trust that the people will support them, the people don’t trust that the government will speak for them. The government is rapidly losing agency with the people of Nigeria,” she said.
She noted that the government had deepened the divide between itself and its citizens through approach, adding that no country could develop under such circumstances.
Baiyewu also said residents of some states, who had been cut off from telecommunications, had no option of reaching out to the public for help.
She referred to the ban on Twitter, saying it had resulted in the loss of lives as more citizens had been cut off from relevant information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Once Twitter was banned, there was a direct correlation between the ban and the surge in COVID cases,” she said.
She also said the government had a history of attempting to clamp down on citizens’ freedom of expression and many Nigerians were behind bars for demanding government accountability.
Affiliate at Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society, Havard University, Nana Nwachukwu, while also speaking at the webinar, said the government had not engaged in actual regulation of social media but was only concerned with not embarrassing corrupt politicians.
Nwachukwu also said the government was unconcerned about the privacy or safety of citizens and was actively fostering disunity in the country.
“The Nigerian government put out a tweet. That tweet was aimed at disintegration. What the Nigerian government should have done is query whoever put out that tweet and we are assuming it’s not the president,” she said.
She urged the government and its officials to carry out introspection and find out the challenges facing citizens face, rather than always using the ‘hammer and nail’ approach.