Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali, recently issued an order to security agencies asking them to “tackle the propagation of hate speech through the social media, particularly by some notable Nigerians.”
The order means that some prominent Nigerians should be monitored and tracked down if they make statements that could be described as hate speech. However, this decision to monitor social media accounts of important personalities in the country is not going down well with stakeholders in the ICT industry.
A digital rights group, Paradigm Initiative, described the order as government’s latest attempt to curtail free speech online, and vowed to challenge it in court.
Already, members of the National Assembly, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the People’s Democratic Party, labour and other notable Nigerians had reportedly criticised it, saying it justifies the opinions of some people that the present government is allergic to criticisms.
Although, some of Nigerian Information Technology experts admitted that governments all over the world have at one point or the other monitored people for specific reasons, they however said it was not done by fiat without passing through relevant channels that would look at the implications and approve that it was safe and could not overtly violate people’s right to privacy.
For ‘Boye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Manager for Anglophone West Africa, “we are deeply concerned that free speech, particularly, online, continues to suffer sustained attacks from agents of government under this administration.
“The restriction of access to twenty one news websites including Naij.com, is just one of the several attempts by the government to curtail people’s rights online.Therefore, the order by the government could only further negatively affect the digital space”.
He added: “As Nigeria heads for a general election in 2019, we must not allow the government to trample on constitutionally guaranteed rights such as free speech. Paradigm Initiative, on its part, will continue to challenge any anti-free speech policy or posturing by the government. Digital rights like privacy and freedom of expression are important features of modern societies and must not be allowed to be abused by people who are afraid of criticism”.
In a twitter response, former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, appeared to toe the line of Paradigm Initiative. He argued that the present government posture will only strengthen hate speakers.
He said: “Threatening to arrest ‘prominent people’ that speak out against President Buhari on social media changes nothing. It will only swell our ranks and strengthen our resolve. To resist evil and oppose tyranny is a divine obligation and sacred duty. Every true leader must honour it. No fear” he added.
Meanwhile the Executive Director, Delta State Innovation Hub, Mr Chris Uwaje, said there was nothing new in the attempt but added that the government must get legal approval from the Judiciary.
According to him, “Governments all over the world have been doing that for a long time even before the advent of Social Media. They wiretap the telephone and record conversations.
“In the manner social media has permeated individual lives; it can be argued that there is nothing like privacy anymore. Today we all freely give out our personal information, from Birth Data to financial and health information on social and other media. All these accumulate and form Big Data in the Cloud.
“In the very near future, Artificial intelligence, AI, and robotics can be applied through Algorithm and Data Analytics to decode the mind and thought process of humans at every Nanosecond with a very high degree of Probability. We are fixed with the Internet of things at the Nano scale and there is no going back,” Uwaje said.
He however cautioned that while all these developments would expose people’s personal lives, it does not warrant the government to treat its citizens’ privacy with levity.
Also speaking, the President of Institute of Software Practitioner of Nigeria, ISPON, James Emadoye noted that the problem with Nigeria’s case is the way ulterior motives creeps into purely security matters, otherwise social media accounts are major components of activities of the population that are supposed to be monitored for various reasons.
He said that “It is not a bad idea if the intention is genuine and shouldn’t even be for only a certain class of persons. However, government should set up parameters that will trigger the need to monitor an account. These variables change from time to time and more persons are brought into the net for monitoring.
“The visa granting offices of the major western countries make use of transnational records in the social media account of individuals to evaluate the kind of people they are. We are still suffering from lack of data on the society; we need to build reliable data for decision making. Banks are now in good stead to gather data on financial transactions, so, we need to activate other areas such as credits account, police and criminal records, driving offenses records among others. Our judiciary need to be more active by determining cases within record time. The overall benefits will be more activities in the economy and that will in turn increase confidence in our system”
Also, former President of Information Technology Association of Nigeria, ITAN, Jimson Olufuye said: “Today, whatever is on the Internet is assumed public unless some form of control is enabled by users to ensure privacy. With this in mind, Internet users need to be advised that they do not post what they cannot defend on the Internet and particularly the social media”
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