The Federal Government, has said it will definitely act to ensure a responsible use of the social media in the country.
This was even as the government disclosed that it had no plan whatsoever to shut down the internet, stifle press freedom or free speech in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this during a stakeholder meeting with members of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) in Abuja.
Mohammed explained that the social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the #EndSARS violence.
He also said some celebrities and even non-Nigerians, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims.
Mohammed further said the violence that resulted from the hijack of the EndSARS protest was catalyzed by fake news and disinformation, which he said, spread like wildfire on social media.
He added that the violence did not come to the government as a surprise, recalling that as far back as 2017, the government had been raising the alarm on the risks posed by fake news and disinformation.
The minister also said in 2017, the government devoted the National Council on Information to the issue of fake news, hate speech and disinformation, while also recalling that the following year, in 2018, it launched the national campaign against fake news and disinformation in partnership with a number of print and electronic media organizations.
“Ladies and gentlemen, social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS violence. Then, pictures of persons, including some celebrities and even non-Nigerians, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims.
“This brings me to the issue of social media regulation. You must have heard about the hoopla this issue has generated in the media.
“Well, I want to confirm that we will definitely act to ensure a responsible use of social media. You may call that regulation.
“But that is not the same as stifling press freedom or free speech. No. Fake news and disinformation are not the same as free speech. This government has no plan to stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down the internet. Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to ffear,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed however said the government cannot give the same assurance for those who weaponize the social media.
“By the way, the issue of regulating social media content is generating debate around the world, so Nigeria is not an exception.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s no longer news that three broadcast stations were sanctioned in the aftermath of EndSARS. Some analysts have attempted to muddy the waters by alleging an attempt to stifle the media. This is sheer red herring.
“The simple truth is that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposed fines on the three broadcast stations for using unverified and dangerous information from social media. Two of the stations have paid in full, while one has paid in part.
“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to broadcast stations to avoid using unverified information from social media, as this is fraught with danger. Despite the temptation, the stations must adhere strictly to the gate-keeping tradition instead of rushing to use materials that are not authenticated,” Mohammed added.
Mohammed further said the use of unverified videos, and the non-adherence to the basic tenets of journalism have combined to land an international broadcaster, CNN, in trouble.
Mohammed said: “This station has been caught in the web of fake news and disinformation, after it relied heavily on videos it took from social media for a supposed exclusive investigation on the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th. The
station was also found to be inconsistent. After tweeting, without a shred of evidence, from its verified handle on Oct. 23rd that soldiers killed 38 peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th, the
same station now said only one person was killed – after a month of
its investigation. What an embarrassment!
“It is baffling that an organization like CNN will rely on unauthenticated videos to carry out an investigation. More worrisome
is that an international broadcaster like CNN will switch casualty figures so casually without a credible source. This is why we have
written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to
probe its investigation. We have received an acknowledgement of our
letter, saying the letter has been referred to CNN’s Editorial Team.
“We await the outcome of their probe, but that’s without prejudice to
whatever we may decide to do as a government. We will not sit by and
allow any news organization, local or foreign, to set Nigeria on fire
with irresponsible and unprofessional reporting. CNN did not have a
reporter or cameraman at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question,
yet it emphatically reported a hoax story. Conversely, the BBC that
had a reporter and an editor on ground reported that soldiers shot
into the air, not at protesters. I will rather believe the person on
the ground than the one who is thousands of kilometres away.
“Since we sent our letter, CNN has been grasping at straws in
desperation, to justify its inaccurate and unbalanced investigation.
But in the process, it is sinking more and more into professional
infamy. Yesterday, Nov. 26th that is, in the clearest indication yet of the
its confusion over the Lekki Toll Gate incident, CNN tried to clarify
its tweet of Oct. 23rd by saying it never attributed the death toll of 38 to
Amnesty International and that the tweet also did not make it clear that
the death toll was for protests across the country. Commentators on the
tweet tried to redirect CNN to the issue: which is its tweet of Oct. 23rd in
which it said ”At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday (Oct. 20th)
when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters.” This is very unambiguous
and CNN is exhibiting panic by seeking to clarify its tweet some 35 days later!
Instead of engaging in such panic, CNN should come clean by admitting that
it goofed badly on the Lekki Toll Gate incident.”
The Minister added that the big lesson to draw from CNN’s faux pas was that it magnified
the failure or inadequacy of the nation’s broadcast organizations.
“In the wake
of our spat with CNN, people are asking: Why didn’t our own broadcast
stations take the lead in reporting the incident at Lekki? Why didn’t they
take the lead in presenting an authentic narrative? Why must we allow the
foreign broadcast stations, some of which didn’t even have correspondents
on ground, to dictate the pace, thus misleading the world? These are questions
begging for answers and I think for BON, this must form part of their review
of the coverage of the whole crisis,” the Minister stated.
Mohammed further said the
Federal Government commended the security agencies for their
professionalism and their restraint, which helped to save many lives during the protest.
He said even in the face of attacks and provocation, the security agencies, in
particular the police and soldiers, acted within their rules of
“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 killings of security agents, as well as
the destruction of public and private property. This is selective
perception and it is condemnable.
“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.
The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and dastardly.
Yet, human rights organizations and the media have not given this the
attention it deserved. Rather, they have remained fixated on the
so-called massacre. It seems human rights do not matter for men and
women in uniform. This is unfortunate and must be corrected. Please
note that the violence also left 57 civilians dead, 269
private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government
facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted,” the Minister stated.
On his part, the Vice Chairman of BON, Godfrey Ohuabunwa, said regular meetings with government will help foster more understanding and better relationship.
Ohuabunwa added that the government needed to review its strategy in the area of fine on broadcast stations.
He also said it was embarrassing that before news get to broadcast stations in the country, and other local mediums, Voice of Nigeria and BBC had already aired the news.
“It is actually an embarrassment to us as BON. I don’t know how we are going to work about that,” Ohuabunwa said.