A Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation, has urged the Federal Government to halt its plan of using the military to monitor the usage of social media.
In a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, the president needs to ensure that military operations and activities strictly comply with the constitution and the country’s obligations under international human rights law, adding that what the President needs to do is to develop proactive and holistic policies that would ensure that technology is used to increase both freedom and security of Nigerians and ensure that everyone benefits from digital technology and not criminalised and penalised for using it.
It said: “Instructing the military to end any such monitoring would help your government to defend and keep to its oft-repeated commitment to human rights, transparency and accountability.”
“Classifying legitimate exercise of freedom of expression as ‘hate speech’ is counter-productive, in the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and privacy, Nigerians should be allowed to speak truth to power and stand up for their rights,” the group said.
The group noted that monitoring the citizens on social media is not in sync with democratic norms as it is tantamount to criminalizing their freedom of expression and it would also hurt the freedom of press which is very essential as a necessary watchdog. According to them, it means that government is forcing journalists to be reporting only what is suitable to the government as against reporting what would be beneficial to the people.
“It would have a chilling effect on media activities in Nigeria and pose a serious threat to the ability of Nigerians to meaningfully participate in their own government,” the group added.
According to SERAP, Federal Government needs to focus on promoting open, transparent and democratic dialogue, and protecting those at risk of being attacked for their opinions, instead of monitoring or clamping down on freedom of expression and privacy online.
It will be recalled that recently, the Director of Defence Information, Major-General John Enenche said that the activities of Nigerians on the social media were being monitored for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information by the military, adding that some of those activities put the unity of Nigeria in jeopardy.