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









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


EndSARS protest.



  1. 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.



  1. What were the EndSARS protesters asking for? Their five demands were:


  1. i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated


for protecting the lives and property of citizens.



  1. 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


Police Force.



  1. 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.



  1. 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



  1. 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



  1. 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.



  1. 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


most urgently.



  1. 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.



  1. 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.



  1. 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!



  1. 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.



  1. 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.



  1. 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


unfair reporting.



  1. 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.



  1. 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


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