Following the controversy that trailed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari‘s alleged genocidal tweet and its subsequent deletion by Twitter, the Nigerian Government appears resolute on exercising total control over the social media space.
It’s initial response was a directive to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all Over-the-top (OTT) and social media operations in Nigeria; as contained in a release by the Information Ministry, announcing a suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country indefinitely. A development that continues to spark widespread outrage from citizens.
As a follow up to the directive, the NBC on Thursday directed all Online Broadcast Service Providers and Social Media Platforms operating in the country to apply and obtain a broadcast licence for their services.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, would even go further to threaten Nigerians who defy the ban with prosecution for an offence unknown to the laws of the land.
According to the NBC newspaper advertorial signed its Director-General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, any online Broadcast Service Provider that fails to obtain a license will be considered an illegal entity.
The Senate has since 2019 faced obstacles in going ahead with debates on Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill commonly known as the anti-social media bill, as well as The Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill and the opposition to them remain fresh.
The use of social media in Nigeria as well as in other climes presents concerns on spread of fake news and other negative use of micro-blogging platforms, the Nigerian government however, appears to see the ‘Buhari tweet controversy’ as a perfect opportunity to enact its desire to regulate social media. Another move that has consistently been resisted by Nigerians.
The federal government wouldn’t even consider a stakeholder meeting to brainstorm on unique ways to solve the challenge, but believes that forcing hasty regulations and directives upon the citizens who use these platforms to organise for worthy causes, demand accountability from government at all levels and carry out legitimate businesse is the way to go.
We have to agree with the opinion that the two-month closure of the courts in someway provided leeway for the hasty actions on social media regulation which the government is now rolling out. But Nigerians and the civil society movement have to rise up in defense of their rights (now that the courts are open); as any chance to muzzle free speech and its twin- free press is an invitation to dictatorship.
There are already huge worries about the 9th National Assembly being a ‘rubber stamp parliament,’ as explanations for its inability to effectively check the actions of the executive. Whatever Nigerians make of this actions goes a long way in determining how much rights would be further lost to satisfy some government-driven desires.
Freedom of expression and the press freedom are vital components of democracy around the world and if Nigeria must make progress beyond this infant stage we’ve been for 20+ years, then Gatekeepers certainly need to be taken off the social media space.
The Nigerian government appears to be towing the path of India – who in February 2021 mandates online media as well as OTT platforms to follow the existing content codes meant for television and print media, and to set up a grievance redressal structure that will look at any violation of the rules, but it forgets that peculiarity of climes matter.
I would advise government to focus on the root causes of the agitations in the country, build effective communication channels to engage citizens often and rejig the hitherto all-famous National Orientation Agency (NOA) to push the gospel of self-regulation especially on social media.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Journalist, Political Analyst and Satirist with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.