The Federal Government of Nigeria has insisted that there is the need for policy to regulate social media use in Nigeria as, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria may “be sitting on a keg of gun powder” and “if we don’t regulate social media, it will destroy us.”
The Minister made the call for the regulation of social media when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information and National Orientation, Ethics and Values on October 27, 2020 with a delegation of his Ministry to defend the Ministry’s year 2021 budget.
Responding to questions from the committee members on how fake news and misinformation were used to aggravate the #EndSARS protest and what government can do to forestall re-occurrence, Alhaji Mohammed said: “We need a social media policy that will regulate what should be said and posted and what should not,” and “We also need technology and resources to dominate our social media space.”
He noted that social media is the platform of choice for those who propagate fake news adding, the #EndSARS protest was mobilised with the aid of social media while fake news and misinformation were used to fuel the peaceful protest to precipitate chaos and as a result, there is an urgent need for a national policy to curb its excesses and misuse.
He underscored the need for the deployment of resources to acquire relevant technology that would enable the government to dominate and control the nation’s social media platforms.
Citing China and Ethiopia as examples, the Minister said: “If you go to China, you cannot get google, Facebook or Instagram but you can only use your email because they have made sure that it is regulated.”
“In June this year, there was a riot in Ethiopia when a popular musician was killed. What Ethiopia did to curtail the crisis that followed was to shut down the social media for two days, even when Ethiopia hosts the AU,” the Minister added.
Alhaji Mohammed said that the government foresaw the danger of fake news and hate speech as far back as 2017, he said “We saw as far back as 2017 that the next epidemic that will hit Nigeria and the entire world is fake news and misinformation,” and that based on that it dedicated an entire National Council on Information meeting in Jos to the issue. He said thereafter the Ministry launched a national campaign on fake news on July 11, 2018, where it stressed that the next war will be fought without a shot being fired but with the use fake news.
He said the government did not stop there but went on a tour of all media houses seeking their support against fake news and also launched a campaign to regulate the social media which he said “was bitterly contested by the stakeholders.”
He noted that social media and fake news have been used for negative effects saying it was used to escalate farmers-herdsmen clashes and that during the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, they were also used to stoke violence.
The House of Representatives, however, warned against clamping down on free speech and press freedom. A member of the Committee, Hon. Emmanuel Oghene, warned against any attempt to shut down the social media in the country, saying the action will be counter-productive and would make the youths to believe that there is an attempt to truncate democracy in the country. He said it will be wrong to always look at the negative sides of the social media at all times without mentioning the good side.