Media rights defenders on Wednesday cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari against repressive actions that could have grave implications for Nigeria’s democracy.
In a statement to PREMIUM TIMES, Lanre Arogundade, Edetaen Ojo and Akin Akingbulu, all veteran journalists, said Mr. Buhari should order the military to scrap its spying operation against Nigerians on social media.
The activists expressed concern that the operation could provide “enormous opportunities for abuse of power and the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Nigerians by the military.”
The defence spokesperson, John Enenche, said in a television interview last week that the military had commenced expansive monitoring of Nigerians on social media for speeches that could be deemed as hateful or anti-government.
“We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security,” Mr. Enenche, a major general, said.
His comments followed Mr. Buhari’s concerns about the emerging aggressive tones on social media.
“I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation,” the president in a nationwide address August 21.
“This is a step too far,” he added.
The announcement alarmed many Nigerians and several civic groups have condemned it as repressive.
It is yet unclear if the president has taken or plans to take any steps about the complaints. His spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES requests for their principal’s position Wednesday afternoon.
But Messrs. Arogundade, Ojo and Akingbulu, who wrote under the think-tank, Partnership for Media and Democracy, said the grave implications of the spying exercise cannot be brushed aside.
According to the trio, the tracking could lead to the following seven infractions:
The violation of the right of freedom of expression as constitutionally guaranteed for Nigerians and as protected by important international instruments and charters especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to mention a few;
- The undermining of the right of the public to know about the activities of the government including the security agencies which in a democracy are subordinate to civil authorities;
- The non-guarantee of the safety of media professionals, especially online journalists and those covering the activities of the military;
- The incapacitation of the media to carry out the obligation to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people as stipulated in section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended;
- The infringement of the right of opposition political parties to take the ruling parties at the Federal, State and Local levels to task on their policies, programs and performance;
- The breach of the right of the electorate to hold elected politicians accountable for their campaign or electoral promises; and
- The encroachment of the right of the civil society, unions, pro-democracy activists, etc to express dissent over government policies they may consider injurious to their collective and/or individual interests.
Consequently, they asked the military to immediately dismantle all facilities it had established for the purpose of spying on Nigerians on social media.