Lai Mohammed: FG concerned about abuse of social media, seeks support of online publishers + Full text
FG concerned about abuse of social media – Lai Mohammed + Full text
By GBENGA ADEOLA
SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI
LAI MOHAMMED, IN LAGOS ON
TUESDAY, 1ST DEC, 2020
Gentlemen of the press, good morning. Thank you for always honouring
our invitation. I have called this meeting so I can brief you on
recent developments across the country, especially in the wake of the
- As you are all aware, the month of October witnessed the EndSARS
protest by the youth, who were calling for an end to police brutality
and the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The
protest, which started peacefully, later degenerated into violence
after it was hijacked by hoodlums.
- What were the EndSARS protesters asking for? Their five demands were:
- i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
- ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and
appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and
prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
- iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and
retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded
SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
- v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated
for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
- What was the Federal Government’s Response?
Let me take you through a chronology of the response by the Federal Government:
On 11 Oct: The Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate
disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the
Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
On Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating:
”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to
extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of
the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection
of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all
those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.
On Oct. 13th: The IGP ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at
the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological
and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as
a prelude to further training and reorientation before being
redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination
was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).
On the same day, Oct. 13th: The presidential panel on the reform of
SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the EndSARS
On Oct. 15th: The National Economic Council (NEC) directed the
immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry
across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police
brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to
delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other
police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths,
Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a
respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months
to complete its assignment.
Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface
and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special
Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in
their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units
and all other security agencies located in the States. This will
ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also
include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the
head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human
Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3
persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be
established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable
the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries,
Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the
finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria
- Any fair analyst will realize that the Federal Government was not
only responsive but was also very responsible in its handling of the
demands of the EndSARS protesters. We met the five demands. Despite
that, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the
protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized
by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.
- We have no scintilla of doubt that the violence that resulted
from the hijack of the EndSARS protest was catalyzed by fake news and
disinformation, which spread like wildfire on social media. And this
did not come to us as a surprise, considering the fact that since
2017, we have been raising the alarm about the dangers of social media
abuse. Remember, gentlemen, that in 2017, we dedicated that year’s
National Council on Information to the issue of fake news, hate speech
and disinformation. The following year, in 2018, we launched the
national campaign against fake news and disinformation, partnering
with a number of print and electronic media organizations
- Gentlemen, social media was used to guide arsonists and looters
to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS
violence. Pictures of celebrities and even non-Nigerians who were
supposedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate quickly made the rounds on social
media, only for those celebrities to say they are alive, and for
discerning Nigerians to disprove many of those listed as killed at
Lekki Toll Gate
- We remain concerned about the abuse of social media, and we
continue to look for ways to ensure a responsible use of the platform.
Once again, we solicit your support in our effort to fight this
menace. As Online Publishers, who rely heavily on the new media, you
will also be doing yourselves a great favour by helping to weed out
those who are abusing it. If things get to a level where people can no
longer trust anything published online, no one stands to lose more
than media practitioners. That’s why we continue to seek your support
on this issue.
- Talking about social media abuse, on Monday, an online publisher
quoted me as saying Nigeria is at the mercy of Boko Haram. This is
sheer fabrication and an abuse of platform. While in Makurdi, Benue
State, on an official visit, I was asked by journalists to comment on
the killing of farmers in Borno State over the weekend. I said
terrorism is a global problem that requires the collaborative efforts
among nations to combat. I said Nigeria needs the support of global
partners, especially in the area of acquisition of effective platforms
to deal with the terrorists. I recalled that some of the platforms
ordered and paid for by Nigeria have yet to be supplied till date,
thus weakening the war on terror. How these statements translate to
Nigeria being at the mercy of Boko Haram is baffling, and could only
have come from warped minds who are more interested in attracting
traffic to their websites than upholding the truth. Is anyone still in
doubt that something urgent needs to be done to rein in the abuse of
social media? Call it regulation or whatever, we have to do something
- But, as I have always said, checking the abuse of social media
is not synonymous with stifling press freedom or free speech. Fake
news and disinformation are not the same as free speech. For the
umpteenth time, I want to say that this government has no plan to
stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down
the internet as some have claimed. Social media has come to stay, and
those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear. But those who abuse
it are right to be worried.
- On the killing of farmers in Borno, I want to say it is an act of
cowardice and savagery by a group of deranged terrorists, and it does
not reflect the progress being made by the military against Boko
Haram. Going after soft targets is an act of weakness and desperation
by the terrorists, who have suffered huge setbacks in the hands of the
military in recent times. The modus operandi of a losing terror group
is to go after soft targets in order to stay relevant. It’s not only
Boko Haram that does that. In 2019, Al-Shabab attacked DusitD2 Complex
in Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 20. Similarly, the Peshawar
school massacre of 16 December 2014 in Pakistan, carried out by six
gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, left about 150
people dead, most of them students. The truth is that Boko Haram is
badly degraded and can only carry out cowardly attacks like the one
against defenceless farmers over the weekend. We urge Nigerians not to
lose hope in the capability and commitment of the military to rout the
terrorists. Rather, we should continue to support the men and women in
uniform, who are fighting the terrorists with grit and determination.
- Still talking about fake news and disinformation, the recent
EndSARS protest and the aftermath present a rare opportunity to see
how these twin evils could aggravate issues. For example, the
knee-jerk reactions of some countries were informed by fake news and
disinformation, and varying figures of those purportedly killed in the
hoax massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate are being bandied around. For
example, Parliamentarians in Britain put the figure of those killed at
10, CNN first reported 38 and then lowered the number to 1. And DJ
Switch’s numbers cascaded from 78 dead to 15 to 7!
- In particular, it is most disheartening that Parliamentarians in
a country with a history of upholding the finest ideals of democracy
will act in such an uninformed manner on an issue such as EndSARS. The
quality of the debate at the British Parliament on EndSARS was under
par. Fake accusations based on fake news and disinformation were
levelled against the Federal Government by poorly-informed
participants at the debate. One MP even accused former Nigerian leader
Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), who served this country to the best of his
ability, of stealing half of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Sheer
Ignorance! The flippant MP, who unfortunately chairs the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons, did a great
disservice to himself, the Committee he chairs and the entire
Parliament by allowing himself to be misled by fake news exponents.
Fittingly, the British Government has distanced itself from him.
- Even an international broadcaster like CNN was misled by fake
news and disinformation. But CNN has itself to blame for relying on
unauthenticated videos, which it took from social media. Now, CNN is
seeking to save face by trying to clarify its report, which was not
only inaccurate but failed the simple test of balance and fairness.
The attempt to walk back its earlier report has justifiably attracted
the anger of Nigerians. As you all know, the Federal Government has
written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to
probe its so-called investigative report on the Lekki Toll Gate
incident. We have received an acknowledgement of our letter, saying
the letter has been referred to CNN’s Editorial Team. We await the
outcome of their probe. But CNN has egg on its face for airing an
”exclusive investigation” that is hinged on nothing but fake news.
- Finally, Gentlemen, I want to speak on the role of the security
agencies during and after the EndSARS protest. The Federal Government
commends the security agencies for their professionalism and their
restraint, which helped to save many lives. Even in the face of
attacks and provocation, the security agencies, in particular the
police and soldiers, acted within their rules of engagement. The
reporting of the EndSARS protest has been skewed against the security
agencies. While most reports have become fixated on the so-called
massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, only a few have highlighted the
attacks and killing of security agents, as well as the destruction of
public and private property. I urge you to help in correcting this
- For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all
over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured;
164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.
In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269
private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government
facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted. The
killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and savage. Yet,
human rights organizations and the media have not given this the
attention it deserves. Rather, they have remained fixated on the
so-called massacre. It seems the men and women in uniform are not
entitled to the protection of their own human rights. This is
unfortunate and must be corrected.
- Gentlemen, as you are aware, and in accordance with the
directive of Mr. President, Ministers have since gone back to their
respective states to meet with stakeholders in the wake of the protest
and its aftermath. A Federal Government delegation has also visited
the various zones to consult with stakeholders. There is no doubt that
the outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of
the whole crisis by the Federal Government..
18 I thank you all for your kind attention