One of the most recent popular statements made by Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed is that social media needs to be regulated or progressive development will stay in the shadows. He seems keen about this to the point that he mentions it at every opportunity and now, during his last appearance at the National Assembly to defend his ministry’s budget. He warned that social media is like sitting on a keg of gunpowder and if nothing is done soon, it will explode in Nigeria’s face.
The Minister, who is known for his highly critical and near defamatory statements as an opposition figure is in power now and intolerant of dissenting opinions. While it is notable that the spate of fake news in recent times is worrisome, the solution is not the regulation of social media. The minister also cited China as an example of a country where social media has been regulated. But, any critical observer knows that China is not an ideal democracy and cannot be used as a standard for issues like free speech and press freedom.
If one takes into account the spate of defamatory and untrue statements passed on social media, one would be tempted to support Alhaji Lai Mohammed but the problem is Nigerian politicians.
Historically, Nigerian politicians have not been known to use things positively. Laws, statutes and even power in the hands of Nigerian politicians are always used to their advantage and selfish interest.
Corruption and abuse of power seem to be endemic in Nigeria. Now imagine social media bill in the hands of people who cannot manage public resources without stealing it for themselves. They would simply use it as an avenue to arrest and prosecute their enemies and opposition figure under the guise of the law.
Also, social media is part of a globalisation of the world and is not subject to any country’s law. What needs to be done must be constant engagement with companies who manage these platforms and just and an equitable country.
In a country where the government is sincere and is doing well, they would not need a social media bill to gag opposition and critics. Alhaji Lai Mohammed must accept democracy as a whole. Free speech and press freedom are integral parts of democracy and they must be embraced wholly. Social media has its downsides but it cannot destroy us more than dishonest politicians can.
“Ayọ̀délé Ìbíyẹmí is a lifetime student of Literature. He is also a reader who writes occasionally. For him, words are what makes the intractable world livable. Ayo tweets at @Ayo_eagles. He was a Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow and won the 2019 Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Book Review.”