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Build up to 2019: Fear grips Nigerians

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Build up to 2019: Fear grips Nigerians

…over alleged clampdown on social media activities

Some citizens should be ready to go into exile –Online publisher

Ahead of the 2019 general elections and with the image of the President Muhammadu Buhari led-APC government continuously sliding in the eyes of some Nigerians, the government is said to have begun the process of enforcing a comprehensive clampdown on perceived unfriendly online newspapers and social media. Also to be affected by the pending clampdown are blogs and websites.
This came on the heels of the recent statement credited to the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, who had reportedly said on January 25, 2018 that he had directed security agencies to tackle those propagating hate speeches, especially through the social media.
He was reported to have further directed that special attention be given to notable Nigerians while tackling the ‘menace’.
According to him, the directive was given at a meeting of the National Security Council presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Sequel to this, there were indications that the Federal Government may have commenced the implementation of the directive through the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), which has allegedly engaged the services of a firm in Lagos to block the domain names of “several identified websites threatening national security.”
The Office of the National Security Adviser drew the list of the offensive websites and the number is in said to be in excess of 21.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that NCC, in a reminder letter dated October 20, 2017, to the firm, titled: “Re: Request to Prevent the Commission of an Offence under Section 146 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 200”, asked the firm to immediately take steps to restrict access within the Nigerian cyberspace in respect of 21 additional websites by blocking the domain names.
But the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) refused to comment on this on Friday when contacted by Sunday Telegraph.
The Commissions, however, said its mandates as the country’s telecoms regulator, are clear and may not involve embarking on any action that runs counter to its raison deter.
“We are a regulator, we promote universal access to telecoms services whether voice or data and we try as much as possible to encourage responsible use of the Internet access that people have to do productive things with the country’s socio-economic and political landscapes,” a top official source at NCC said.
The source, who did not want his name mentioned because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said: “If you go to our official websites, the NCC mandates are clear as derived from the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 and don’t think it includes clampdown on social media users. That may be a responsibility for other agencies as government deems fit.
“As you may be aware, the powers of the NCC is derived from Section 3 of the Nigerian Communications Acts (NCA) of 2003 and this include giving written directions to licensees; consulting with consumers, commercial and industrial organisations; delegating its functions to a committee constituted by it; summoning persons to appear before the Commission; entering into contracts with any company, firm or persons; and establishing and maintaining subsidiaries to enable the discharge of its functions.
“So, from all that I have said here, one can see that the mandates of the NCC are clear and unambiguous and, again, these mandates are backed by legal document. However, the government of the day, through other agencies or parastatals, may embark on any policy as deemed fit for the good of the country, as we all operate under the same government.”
The Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, speaking through his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Victor Oluwadamilare, told Sunday Telegraph on telephone that the government would not limit Nigerians’ access to social media solely on the basis that they might be used to express views critical of the government.
He, however, added that it was an irresponsible government that would allow absolute freedom.
Shittu said: “In an era when the social media have become very strong platforms for information dissemination and public discourse, it is imperative for the government and the key players in the private sector to pay extra attention to feedback from and utilise these new media to provide platforms for government-citizen and business-public engagement in an online, real-time and interactive manner.
“On the other hand, social media can also be a nuisance to the government and society at large. Mudslinging, hate speech, cyber bullying, rants and unbridled ventilation of anger are common features on these platforms.”
But in reaction, a social media activist, Duke Aigboje, told Sunday Telegraph on telephone that the move by government smacks of dictatorship and intolerance of opposing views.
He said: “You will recall in the run up to the 2015 elections, one of the key fears raise by those who did not lose track of Buhari’s antecedents as a military ruler of Nigeria was his dictatorial tendencies. But his spin-doctors rose in his defence, saying that he was a changed man and a born-again democrat. But now that Nigerians are letting out their frustrations over his fallings, using the various media, the well know character of the old dictator is coming. But we will not be deterred by that move. That is the Nigerian spirit which has survived the worst dictatorships in the past, talking about the Abacha Military Junta. It is that spirit that we represent and we will continue to point out the man’s misgovernance.”
Also speaking, a social media activists and publisher of Journal Online, Mr. Ismail Aniemu, said the move, if not challenged by reasonable Nigerians, “means that we are biding goodbye to freed speech and true democracy in Nigeria, which we had taken for granted before now. We all thought that we have grown beyond that and it is no longer one of our problems. But this move is a sad reminder of the 1984 to 85 rule and the Abacha regime.
“My worry is that this government, which was helped to win the election by the activities of social media players, is now turning round to say people are spreading hate online; it is just intolerance. Some of us would go into exile if government starts to gag Nigerians because it is worse than death,” he said.
Also reacting, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Mr. Gbenga Sesan, who is an active user of major social media, said: “Any attempt by the government to gag freedom of expression on social media platforms would be tantamount to bridging the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizens.”
Sesan, however, encouraged Internet users to be responsible in their usage of social media platforms.
In the same vein, a twitter user, Mr. Timilehin Bello, with over 30,000 followers on twitter, aligns with Sesan’s position.
Bello, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Media Panache Nigeria, said: “While clamping down on social media users suspected to be using hate speeches appears inappropriate, the users too should use the platforms for positive and productive purposes.”

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