President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, has called for the regulation of social media, saying doing otherwise could lead to “more lawlessness, violence and deaths.”
Mr Shehu said the Nigerian government was, however, not against free speech.
He made the remarks on Sunday at a media award event organised by Kawararafa Reporters, a news magazine.
He said the emerging modern media platform has played a strong role in promoting information sharing, strengthening democracy, and building networks of relationships, but without supervision or control, the nation risks “more havoc.”
A Senate bill proposing social media regulation has been rejected by many Nigerians who accuse the government of attempts to stifle free speech.
Mr Shehu’s remark supports calls by other officials of the Buhari administration for the control of social media, which the government claims has contributed to hate speech and violence.
The president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, on Friday, said some Nigerians have used internet platforms to attack her husband falsely and should not be allowed to go without consequences.
Mrs Buhari rebuked Mr Shehu and other officials of not doing enough to defend the president.
It was not clear whether Mr Shehu’s latest comments were in response to Mrs Buhari’s criticism.
“For instance, the entire Kasuwan Magani saga that resulted in the death of more than 50 people was because someone posted misleading information on WhatsApp that went viral,” Mr Shehu said, according to a statement by Attah Esa, State House Deputy Director for Information.
“All countries in the world are trying to make laws to check the excesses. Many countries are trying to control the situation. The Europeans have placed a new law that holds the companies responsible.
“In United Kingdom, the parliament has received a report on social media. There is a youth addiction to it, just like cigarettes. Without any form of control, it has done harm to women, ethnic minorities, individuals, institutions and countries,’’ he said.
Mr Shehu said the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had consistently called for a meeting of stakeholders to agree on modalities for regulating the social media, but was rebuffed.
“The federal government is saying that stakeholders should come together and agree on regulation. We know that no matter how bad the situation it favours someone.
“Some have argued that our constitution already has laws in libel, but the laws of the ‘60s never anticipated social media.
“No government has the right to muzzle freedom of speech. We don’t support the taking of lives as punishment. People insult others and share false information on social media. I hope that hate speech will be tackled so that Nigeria will be a sane place to live in,’’ he was further quoted as saying.
Mr Shehu said in every part of the world journalists go through some form of training, accreditation and licensing before plying their trade, like doctors, but “with a phone, a tablet or laptop anyone can reach millions, sometimes for good and other times with ulterior motives.’’
He said hate speech preceded social media, but it was traceable through the media platform and controlled, explaining that the social media, while emerging, portends a great force, and needs to be regulated for safety and peaceful co-existence.
The chief executive officer of Kwararafa Reporters, Emmanuel Bello, said the publication was non-political, and it rewards politicians, public servants, business executives and individuals with distinguished record of service to the nation.
Mr Shehu and the special adviser to the president, media and publicity, Femi Adesina, were honoured with “Media Excellence of the Year’’.
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