President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to prevail on the military to halt its ongoing monitoring of Nigerians on the Internet.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, was joined by another civic group, Concerned Nigerians, in a recent demand for the president to respect the freedom of Nigerians on all social media platforms.
“Use your good offices and leadership position to instruct the military authorities to immediately end any monitoring of activities of Nigerians on the social media, and to ensure that military operations comply with Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and the country’s obligations under international human rights law,” SERAP said in an open letter to Mr. Buhari dated August 25.
The admonition followed an announcement by Defence Headquarters that citizens are being monitored for “hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information” on social media.
The defence spokesperson, John Enenche, who hinted at the operation in an interview with Channels Television this week did not elaborate on the type of speeches that military deemed as constituting “hate” or “anti-government.”
Mr. Enenche, a major general, put Nigerians on notice about the tracking programme two days after Mr. Buhari himself expressed concerns about emerging tone 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.
But the administration’s stance on did not go down well with many Nigerians, and rights groups have roundly criticised any attempts to curb freedom of expression.
“Monitoring Nigerians on social media would criminalise their freedom and the activity of journalists that are critical of the government and censor the media from reporting on sensitive and critical information that is relevant to the public interest but controversial to the government,” SERAP said in the statement signed by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale.
Mr. Adewale said rather than implementing repressive policies, the Buhari administration should develop “proactive and holistic policies that ensure that technology is used to increase both freedom and security of Nigerians.”
The government should also start “promoting, encouraging and facilitating access to the Internet, in particular, social media, and other information and communication technology, as basic tools for Nigerians to express themselves and participate in their own government,” SERAP added.
SERAP said any move to suppress free expression on social media will run contrary to the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution as well as several local and international charters that proscribe attacks on speech.
“The Nigerian government must not censor radio, TV, newsmakers or social media. It’s against all ethics of democracy,” Concerned Nigerians’ convener, Deji Adeyanu, told PREMIUM TIMES in a statement Sunday.
“The beautify of democracy is free speech,” he added. “The minute citizens are afraid of expressing themselves, we are in a dictatorship.”
At least 20 Nigerians have been arrested within the past year for their activities on social media, a situation that could get worse should military continue its surveillance activities, Mr. Adeyanju said.