Lai Mohammed: FG concerned about abuse of social media, seeks support of online publishers + Full text

Lai

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

 

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

 

protesters.

 

 

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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