In a communique emanating from the meeting of it’s Standing Committee, held in Ikeja, Lagos on November 8, the editors reminded the Federal Government of the dire consequences of similar attempts in the past to gag freedom of speech, as such initiatives were usually misconstrued by security agents and some public officials to harass, arrest and in most cases, illegally detain journalists and other Nigerians for holding their opinions.
The Guild which invoked Article 13(4) of its Constitution, to elect Mustapha Isah as Acting President of the Guild, to fill the vacant position of Mrs Funke Egbemode as President, upon her appointment as Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation in Osun State, said that the government move is in bad taste.
The Standing Committee resolved as follows:
That the Federal Government should rescind the decision to regulate the Social Media, as such measure is in clear contravention of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), which guarantees every Nigerian citizen the right to “freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Advising the Federal Government to seek ways to maximize social media to disseminate information on the activities and policies of government, rather than its current attempt to stifle it: the Guild urges the government to engage the founders and promoters of social media, namely: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter among others – to creatively find ways of sieving information disseminated through their respective channels, to curtail extremisms of violence and hate speech.
Recognising that Nigeria is already in the red zone of nations with very poor record of Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech, the Guild notes, for instance, that the 2019 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders places Nigeria in a distant 120th position among 180 nations under review. Also, in the 2019 Global Impunity Index published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), which chronicles countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials, and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical views, dissent and particularly the media, Nigeria ranks as high as the 12th position, sharing the top bracket with impunity-prone and conflict-riddled nations like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Pakistan etcetera.
Sadly, this is not a good profile and the Federal Government of Nigeria should not take further actions that would add to this unpleasant tar on the nation by seeking to ‘sanitise’ Social Media but, should rather build bridges and collaborations with the Nigerian media and promoters of social media. Such synergy and partnership in an Information Age, is the best way to make the most of the advantages of social media which far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
The Guild notes that Nigeria has enough extant laws, including the Cyber Crime Act 2015, to deal with issues of ‘hate speech’ and ‘Fake News’. It urges the government to test such laws in the courts of competent jurisdictions in accordance with due process of the law rather than create another legal instrument and atmosphere that would give agents of state the latitude to harass and criminalise citizens especially journalists.
The Guild observes that in most cases, it is the officials of governments at all levels that push out Fake News and hate speech by their words and actions; stressing that it behoves government actors to check their actions and utterances.
The Guild uses this opportunity to call on government and security agencies to release forthwith all journalists being detained nationwide, as their continued detention runs contrary to the grains of the Constitution.
The Guild congratulates Mrs Egbemode on her appointment.