Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, said on Wednesday that the Buhari administration would increase funding and technical know-how to regulate social media and combat hate speech.
“We cannot allow our media environment to be overtaken by fake news and hate speech, especially on the social media,” Mr Mohammed said during a media briefing at the State House on Wednesday afternoon.
He also said fines for broadcast infractions will be increased 10 times from N500,000 to N5 million.
Mr Mohammed’s declaration, hardly new in assertion and substance, indicates the Nigerian government would not backtrack on its quest to regulate speech on social media, despite widespread opposition to it.
Rights activists argued the government’s plot to regulate social media was unacceptable because it unfairly targets criticisms that the government does not like — especially from opposition voices.
The government has continued to assert a monopoly over what constitutes hate speech, drafting and implementing regulations with little or no input from civil liberties advocates.
Dozens of Nigerians have been detained since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, as his government and those of various states tightened the noose on free speech.
Fake news in Nigeria has increased in parallel with the raging phenomenon across the world, yet federal authorities remain largely helpless in containing it.
The government said unnamed fake news merchants have exploited the anonymity of the Internet to foster division amongst the country’s disparate ethnic and religious entities.
To combat the crisis, Mr Mohammed said the government would increase fines for broadcast stations whose content contravenes broadcast codes for hate and divisive speech.
Dozens of radio stations have been slammed with heavy fines or shut down within the last two years for breaching government-defined red lines for hate speech.
Many of the broadcasters criticised the fines as arbitrary and excessive, challenging the fines in court.
Still, Mr Mohammed said the government will further tighten regulations and hike fines.
”Under the broadcasting code, which is going to be re-issued, a fine of N5 million against the usual N500,000 has now been approved by Mr President for any infringement that has to do with either indecency, incitement or hate speech,” the minister said.
“In addition, if any particular broadcasting house infringes three times, then you will risk the suspension of the licence. Mr President also approved our recommendation,” he added.
Mr Mohammed said the Buhari administration “would look to Singapore and other countries with social media regulations to formulate a coherent policy for Nigeria”.
Where extant provisions are insufficient, the National Assembly will be asked to pass new laws against hate speech and social media recklessness.
He said budget and technical support would be increased for workers at the country’s broadcast regulator.
“We know that there are resistances, a lot of sponsored attacks but I assure you that no matter the level of the attacks whether sponsored or otherwise, the government holds a duty to Nigerians not to allow hate speech and fake news to divide the country,” the minister said.