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Opinion (4/11/2020): Social Media Regulation: Them Against Us, By Titus Orngu

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Since 5th November, 2019 when Senator Mohammmed Sani Musa brought the bill titled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’, the Nigerian government has been looking for ways to muzzle the Nigerian public by regulating social media. By the time the bill passed second reading in the Senate and its content was made public, majority of the Nigerian populace led by Civil Society organisations and Human Rights groups were vehement in opposition to it because it was seen as an attempt to gag the public and remove prying eyes of the international community from gross human rights violations that take place in the country.

But for social media, who would have known that a soldier beat up a woman at an ATM in Lagos for ‘having the audacity’ to ask him to join the queue or who would have known that some soldier beat up a woman in Ibadan for ‘indecent dressing’? Nobody would have known of the killing of a boy in Ughelli by SARS operatives who made away with the boy’s white Lexus jeep. If not for social media, who would have known that the governor of Kano State, Ganduje, received dollars from a contractor and stuffed them in the pocket of his big agbada?

The above are just very few instances of the ills perpetrated by our security operatives and politicians that have been exposed via social media. In fact, it was the Ughelli killing that gave life to the #EndSARS protests which, for thirteen days, brought the world’s attention to the deadly activities of the dreaded police squad. The attendant consequences of the protests and the government’s attempt at stopping it are still reverberating throughout the country.

If not for social media, the Nigerian people would hardly know if the government is telling the truth or not. This is Nigeria where a politician would claim that he has constructed a road to a certain place or a bridge across a certain river and it will be only on paper. Such claims were exposed during the Niger Delta Development Commission hearings in the Senate where the claim of a multi-billion naira bridge was discovered to be a nailing of some planks across the body of water.

Prior to the advent of social media, when the government controlled the media and was the only provider of television in the country, there were times the Nigerian Television Authority would show a football match that had been played by the Green Eagles long before being aired as ‘live’. This fraud cannot be perpetrated now because people will even post videos of the match and everyone will at once, know that it is not live.

In the wake of the #EndSARS protests, some politicians have resumed the call for social media regulation in a clear case of ‘them versus us’. It is the politicians versus the people. They want us to continually depend only on what they spew out. If the government media says ‘there is gold on the streets of Abuja’, there would be no other media to counter it; if the government says ‘every Nigerian is employed’, there would be no counter-narrative.

The above is not only evidenced in their desperate attempts to emasculate the public via social media regulation but by the way the government-controlled Nigeria Broadcast Commission clamped down on privately owned media houses that gave publicity to the #EndSARS protests.

Now, on social media regulation, what exactly it is that the politicians want to regulate? Is it access to social media or it is the content? From my stand point, it is clear to me that it is the access that government wants to regulate. As it is characteristic of the politicians, they only cite the bad examples across the world and conveniently refuse to see the good ones. On the issue of social media regulation, they are citing China. They forget that China is not a democracy. They look to Singapore for regulation of social media access. They forget that Singapore is at the bottom of global ranking in the freedom of speech and of the press.

If it were content that the government wanted to regulate, all the social media platforms have self-regulating procedures. On Facebook, for instance, the content is vetted and a subscriber could have his account blocked for violating set rules. It is the same thing with Twitter, too. All it takes is have someone complain of the content on your wall.

It is also worrisome that the calls for the regulation of social media are coming from the northern part of the country which always sees anything in Nigeria from the prism of ‘them versus us’. When majority of youths in the country rose to complain against the ills of SARS and demanded the disbandment of the squad, the northern youths saw it as an affront on them and decided to organise their protests in support of SARS. And their governors supported them. They saw the protests of the youths as a protest against their own man who is the president and rose up against the #EndSARS protesters.

In this instant case, it is still the same prism from which the call for the regulation of social media is being viewed. Senator Mohammed Sani Musa had initiated the bill partly because the social media was being used to criticise the activities of President Buhari, his kin; the northern governors are now calling for the regulation of social media because they feel it was the instrument that was used to mobilise support against SARS, and by extension, President Buhari.

The schism in Nigeria is growing wider and wider and is being fuelled by people who are in position to bring the country together. They whip up this ‘them versus us’ sentiments whenever it suits them to fool the rest of the populace. When it suits them to unite to exploit the rest of the populace, they are at one with one another irrespective of tribe or creed. And until the Nigerian sees himself as a Nigerian and not a northerner or easterner or southerner; until the politician sees himself as a Nigerian and nothing more or less, Nigeria will continue to be a country only in name.

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