In January 2017, when the first rumblings of the Buhari administration’s efforts to monitor social media came to light, the minister of information and culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, practically vowed that the current administration would not regulate social media.
“We have said it before and we want to re-state it: the federal government has no immediate or long-term plan to stifle press freedom.
Even the social media, with its warts and all, will neither be regulated nor have its operations tampered with.”
It’s a different story today, because news outlets are now reporting that the federal government has directed security agencies to tackle the ‘propagation of hate speech’, especially through social media. They monitoring order will start with the social media accounts of ‘notable and influential Nigerians’.
The order was given at a security meeting presided over by president Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja, just yesterday. And while passing on the decision to the State House press correspondents, Mansur Dan Ali, Nigeria’s minister of defence, described the trend of hate speech on social media as worrisome, saying:
“Relevant security agencies should as a matter of urgency tackle the propagation of hate speeches through the social media, particularly by some notable and influential Nigerians.”
Clearly, this is a slippery slope to interfering with basic human rights, you know, like freedom of speech. Today, you’re monitoring notable Nigerians; tomorrow, it’s all Nigerians; next week, you’re shutting down our internet.
But, broken vows and human rights violations aside, how exactly does the federal government classify who is a ‘notable and influential Nigerian’?
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