by Oluwatobi Soyombo
Freedom of expression – in particular, freedom of the press – guarantees popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of our democracy. – Corazon Acqino
At the New Media and Governance Conference in Abuja last week, quite a number of the facilitators suggested the need for social media to be regulated. It is of no surprise to me that all the speakers that made this point were government officials. This confirms Farouk Lawan’s statement that “governments, everywhere in the world, respond to pressure”. As for Nigeria, social media has helped mount this pressure more on the Nigerian government.
For a very long time, the voice of the Nigerian populace has not been as loud as it is today, thanks to social media. The recent #OccupyNigeria was arguable, the most organized and successful rally against the government in ages, thanks also to social media. The delayed salary of youth corpers wouldn’t have been noticed by the Minister of Youth Development if not for Social Media.*
Despite these, Nigerian government officials still see the need for the government to create rules and regulations guiding the use of social media in Nigeria – Selfish, that is! In fact, one even suggested that the House of Assembly hold sessions on this – can you imagine that? One of the reasons for this is due to “the numerous abuses and insults we get from youths”, in the words of the Youth Minister.** Another is due to “misinformation”, according the INEC chairman.
When we call for social media censorship in Nigeria, the implication is that people can now go to jail because of a tweet or a blog post. I hope not to be jailed because of this post. Should you not see my post next Monday, I might have been jailed.
Be it abuses on government officials or misinformation, all of these are part of what make a society. Just as we have good and bad citizens in real life, there are also good and bad social media users.
Factually, all social media profiles are an extension of real life personalities. Opposed to traditional media, social media is an exchange. It’s more of a conversation mechanism than a broadcast medium. In Nigeria, this is not so, politicians and government officials want the people to listen to their official broadcasts alone without giving responses. They organize tweet meets to pass the mind of the President across to us without wanting to listen to the opinion of the masses. Who should be listening to who?
Nigerians and probably everyone in the world have a right to freedom of speech, how they exercise this right is their choice to make. I can’t agree more with the Canadian High Commissioner, Chris Cooter when he said, “The default position for progress is free speech.”
Dear government officials please understand that, “that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercise real discretion.” There are just about one million Nigerians on twitter and I suspect that barely 40% of them are currently engaging the government. What would happen when we have 25 million Nigerians on twitter and probably 40 million on Facebook; with 70% of them engaging the government?
From this perspective, social media is simply the voice of the people communicated via technology, and when you decide to censor this, you’ve just suppressed the voice of the citizens. Other governments in the world are embracing the Gov 3.0 initiative (Open Governance), we are here discussing whether social media should be banned or not. Wise up government.
If social media eventually gets regulated in the attempt to suppress the people’s voice, the government should remember Harry Belanfonte’s words that, “You can cage the singer but not the song.” The people’s song is GOOD GOVERNANCE; that cannot be regulated – can it? Society evolves. Ban or regulate social media, the match for good governance continues until it is achieved.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
* The Minister of Youth Development has disproved this. The NYSC is under his purview, he was aware of the delayed payments before he saw the reports on social media.
** The Minister of Youth Development did not call for censorship of social media in Nigeria at the conference.