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We will not backtrack on regulating social media, says Lai Mohammed

….. says killing of 43 rice farmers is act of weakness, desperation of Boko Haram insurgents

Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed has said the country will not backtrack its plans to regulate social media activities in the country.

He said, “Call it regulation or whatever, we have to do something most urgently to rein in the abuse of social media.”

Muhammed said in an interactive session on Tuesday with online publishers in Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital that the full implementation of policy against new media abuse now needed “most urgently.”

According to him, the social media abuse was responsible for the hijack of #EndSARS protest and the terrible violence that followed it.

“Social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS violence. Pictures of celebrities and even non-Nigerians who were supposedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate quickly made the rounds on social media, only for those celebrities to say they are alive, and for discerning Nigerians to disprove many of those listed as killed at Lekki Toll Gate

“We remain concerned about the abuse of social media, and we continue to look for ways to ensure a responsible use of the platform.

“Once again, we solicit your support in our effort to fight this menace. As Online Publishers, who rely heavily on the new media, you will also be doing yourselves a great favour by helping to weed out those who are abusing it. If things get to a level where people can no longer trust anything published online, no one stands to lose more than media practitioners. That’s why we continue to seek your support on this issue,” he said.

The minister continued; “Talking about social media abuse, on Monday, an online publisher quoted me as saying Nigeria is at the mercy of Boko Haram. This is sheer fabrication and an abuse of the platform. While in Makurdi, Benue State, on an official visit, I was asked by journalists to comment on the killing of farmers in Borno State over the weekend. I said terrorism is a global problem that requires the collaborative efforts among nations to combat. I said Nigeria needs the support of global partners, especially in the area of acquisition of effective platforms to deal with the terrorists. I recalled that some of the platforms ordered and paid for by Nigeria have yet to be supplied till date, thus weakening the war on terror. How these statements translate to Nigeria being at the mercy of Boko Haram is baffling, and could only have come from warped minds who are more interested in attracting traffic to their websites than upholding the truth. Is anyone still in doubt that something urgent needs to be done to rein in the abuse of social media? Call it regulation or whatever, we have to do something most urgently.

“But, as I have always said, checking the abuse of social media is not synonymous with stifling press freedom or free speech. Fake news and disinformation are not the same as free speech.

“For the umpteenth time, I want to say that this government has no plan to stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down the internet as some have claimed. Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear. But those who abuse it are right to be worried.

Commenting on the massacre at Zamabari village in Borno state where over 43 rice farmers were killed, Mohammed said it was an act of weakness and desperation on part of the terrorists.

“On the killing of farmers in Borno, I want to say it is an act of cowardice and savagery by a group of deranged terrorists, and it does not reflect the progress being made by the military against Boko Haram. Going after soft targets is an act of weakness and desperation by the terrorists, who have suffered huge setbacks in the hands of the military in recent times. The modus operandi of a losing terror group is to go after soft targets in order to stay relevant. It’s not only Boko Haram that does that. In 2019, Al-Shabab attacked DusitD2 Complex in Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 20.

Similarly, the Peshawar school massacre of 16 December 2014 in Pakistan, carried out by six gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, left about 150 people dead, most of them students. The truth is that Boko Haram is badly degraded and can only carry out cowardly attacks like the one against defenceless farmers over the weekend. We urge Nigerians not to lose hope in the capability and commitment of the military to rout the terrorists. Rather, we should continue to support the men and women in uniform, who are fighting the terrorists with grit and determination.”

Still talking about fake news and disinformation, the recent EndSARS protest and the aftermath, Muhammed continued; “present a rare opportunity to see how these twin evils could aggravate issues. For example, the knee-jerk reactions of some countries were informed by fake news and disinformation, and varying figures of those purportedly killed in the hoax massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate are being bandied around.

“For example, Parliamentarians in Britain put the figure of those killed at 10, CNN first reported 38 and then lowered the number to 1. And DJ Switch’s numbers cascaded from 78 dead to 15 to 7!”

Speaking on the role of the security agencies during and after the EndSARS protest, the minister said; ”the Federal Government commends the security agencies for their professionalism and their restraint, which helped to save many lives. Even in the face of attacks and provocation, the security agencies, in particular the police and soldiers, acted within their rules of engagement. The reporting of the EndSARS protest has been skewed against the security agencies. While most reports have become fixated on the so-called massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, only a few have highlighted the attacks and killing of security agents, as well as the destruction of public and private property. I urge you to help in correcting this unfair reporting.

“For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.

“In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted. The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and savage. Yet, human rights organizations and the media have not given this the attention it deserves. Rather, they have remained fixated on the so-called massacre. It seems the men and women in uniform are not entitled to the protection of their human rights. This is unfortunate and must be corrected.

“As you are aware, and in accordance with the directive of Mr. President, Ministers have since gone back to their respective states to meet with stakeholders in the wake of the protest and its aftermath. A Federal Government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders. There is no doubt that the outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the Federal Government.”

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