OrderPaperToday– A civil society organisation, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has urged the federal government to focus on improving the security and welfare of Nigerians instead of being fixated on regulating social media content.

The group was reacting to a statement credited to the minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, who reportedly said in a meeting with a Finnish government delegation that his ministry will convene a stakeholders’ meeting aimed at designing a framework for the sanitisation of social media.

He was quoted to have added that the move was government’s response to the “irresponsible use of the social media to promote fake news and hate speech and that it was working with stakeholders to device a mechanism to sanitise the social media.”

MRA, in a statement signed by its programme director, Mr. Ayode Longe, on Friday cited Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, which provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

He noted that the federal and state governments have “abandoned their primary purpose and are now preoccupied with chasing shadows to the detriment of Nigerians.

“If the federal government was truly concerned about fake news, it should by now have fired the same information minister, rather than reappointing him.”

The MRA official stated that the minister’s insistence at the meeting that the initiative was not aimed at stifling press freedom or infringing on the rights of individuals was “neither believable nor reassuring, given the government’s track record of using every means to suppress the right to freedom of expression, its ongoing abuse of legislation such as the Cybercrime Act and anti-terrorism and treason laws to suppress media freedom and punish citizens who are critical of the government or government officials.”

Longe also recalled the minister’s denial of the existence of the social media bill pending at the National Assembly in an interview with Tim Sebastian of DW’s Conflict Zone, posted online on January 31, 2020, saying it “only serves to reinforce his lack of credibility and undermine the credibility of the government that he speaks for, not just on the issue of the government’s efforts to control or regulate social media content and repress freedom of expression, but on virtually all issues.”

He continued, “A government whose chief spokesperson is notorious – domestically and internationally – for lying about virtually everything can have no credibility when claiming that the government is concerned about fake news and misinformation, whether online or offline. If the federal government was truly concerned about fake news, it should by now have fired the same information minister, rather than reappointing him.”

MRA also criticised the arrest of five journalists on January 31, 2020, who were subsequently detained and paraded by the Federal Capital Territory Police Command on February 1, 2020 for allegedly attempting to cause panic in Abuja, saying it was yet another instance of the government and its law enforcement agents impeding the work of journalists carrying out their legitimate duties.

The journalists, Ms Pricilla Ajeshola, Mr. Jacob Orji, Mr. Abayomi Adedoyin, Ms Peggy Shande and Mr. David Gold Enemingin, were arrested for reportedly going to Wuse District Hospital in Abuja, where it was alleged that they claimed one of them had Coronavirus.

“We strongly condemn this egregious action by government authorities as a violation of media freedom and a breach by the government of Nigeria of international commitments, particularly Article 66(2)(c) of the ECOWAS Treaty which obliges ECOWAS member states ‘to ensure respect for the rights of journalists,” he said.

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