Lia Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture during a public hearing organised by the country’s House of Representatives Joint Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics, and Values, has reiterated the government’s stand on Twitter’s ban unless certain conditions are met.
During his presentation, the Minister said the country would not be ruled by the dictates of foreign companies. “We are talking about a sovereign country and Nigeria will not be ruled by the laws of a multinational no matter how powerful it is,” Mohammed said.
In a video published by the Newswire Ngr, he maintained that the decision to ban the social media platform wouldn’t have come at a better time than this, and “there is no time that we took this decision that wouldn’t have the kind of reaction we are having now.”
He said the decision came at a time when global governments including UK, EU, Australia, and Singapore were struggling to put measures in place to regulate the social media world.
“Now, it’s because the thing about social media is that when they came, there was neither communication nor information, they were operating under the radar.”
“It’s only recently that governments all over the world realised that these people are doing business, they are not licensed, neither here nor anywhere in the world. And they said no, this must stop, they are causing a lot of trouble.”
“I Know that both NCC and NBC monitor on a daily basis, not just this platform but the entire broadcasting environment. But the thing about social media is that it caught the entire world by the storm.”
The minister, in his presentation, suggested that the lack of regulation on social media platforms was a breeding ground for fake news.
“Look, it was said Hillary Clinton lost the election because of social media through fake news. First, it was that she was suffering from very bad health, secondly, she had ties with terrorists, and the Pope did not support her but supported Trump.”
“This was all fake news, so the issue of fake news is not today, and the struggle to regulate social media is not today. That is why the first thing we said is all online media, come and register, let’s even know who you are, then we say these are the rules, these are the dos, these are the don’ts,” he added.
In his submission to the committee, Mohammed disclosed that the ministry’s efforts to rid Nigeria of fake news and disinformation started in 2017, when it organised a national council on information in Jos, Plateau State to address the topic and “there they prophesied the next war will be caused by fake news.”
In 2018, he added that the government also started an advocacy program to eradicate fake news but decided to regulate social media when the approach did not work.
“We went from one media house to another seeking their support in weeding out fake news, some supported us, some did not. When we were convinced that they were not going to listen, we said we were going to regulate social media, we wrote to NUJ (Nigeria Union of Journalist), we wrote to the guild of editors, they snubbed us.”
He, however, mentioned the lack of registration of Twitter in Nigeria as a foreign company as one of the issues the government has with the micro blogging platform.
“Twitter isn’t even registered in Nigeria. So who do we talk to? But despite that, and I know it’s on record that the social media department of the government actually severally asked Twitter to bring down a lot of tweets, and they refused and said it does not offend their rules. And you see, one thing must be clear, who is Twitter, are they a platform, content creator, or are they the judge?”
Lai Mohammed also explained how the platform, according to him, has become a platform of choice for people promoting activities to destabilise Nigeria.
He said, “We saw how policemen were being killed, how soldiers were being targeted and they were using Twitter … They refused and made their platform available for separatist groups and people calling for the disbandment of Nigeria. That’s why we said enough is enough.”
“And honestly like I said, we owe no responsibility to Twitter. It’s not registered in Nigeria, it doesn’t employ any Nigerian, it does not pay taxes to Nigeria. If Nigerians do make money from Twitter, unfortunately Nigeria has to be a country first before they can make that money.”
He also urged businesses who use Twitter to make use of other platforms available to them until the issues are resolved.
According to him, the ministry had also called on Over The Top (OTT) social media platforms to register as Nigerian companies.
“In the same press release, we also said all OTT must register first as Nigerian companies and be licensed by the NBC before they can carry on any business as social media platforms.”
The call, he said, was informed by the fact that the government realised that many of the OTT and social media operating in Nigeria were not registered in Nigeria, “and they make billions of Naira, they pay no taxes and they employ nobody.”
“That is why we said that we are going to suspend Twitter first, and other social media platforms that are not registered in Nigeria must register.”
He further assured the committee that the Government did not have any intention to stiffen free speech or the media.
“I know it’s true sir that many Nigerians have accused the FG of an attempt to stiffen the media and free speech. And we say not at all, there is absolutely no intention on the part of the government to stiffen free speech or the media.”
He, however, added that the operation of Twitter was inimical to the stability of the country and yet it was the platform of choice through which IPOB, a separatis group in Southeast Nigeria, directs its ‘people’ to kill soldiers and policemen and to burn correctional centres.
“During the unfortunate #EndSARS protest, the same Twitter played a very unsavory role by making available it’s platform to retweet, not just retweet the messages of the protesters but raising funds for the EndSARS protesters before it was hijacked by hoodlums, and Nigerians have forgotten that this particular EndSARS protest led to the death of 57 civilians, 37 police men, 6 soldiers.”
“Both in common law and National security we had to suspend the operations.” He argued that the position of the Company and Allied Matters Act supports the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria.
“Because the primary law governing businesses in Nigeria is the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020.”
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