Media Censorship is an issue that rarely gets the attention it deserves. The government has
carried out a campaign of media censorship intended to consolidate its power at the expense
of our freedom.
In one case in November 2017, independent online news outlet Naij.com and 20 other websites were blocked after promoting the independence of the Biafra region. As we all know, Biafran Independence is a highly contentious issue which the government would rather sweep under the rug than address. To this end, the government shuts down all publications which attempt to address it.
This is one of many ways in which the government is trying to sway the narrative in its favour, thereby silencing thousands of Nigerians. This policy is even more sinister considering the fact that the government also abuses provisions of the constitution and law enforcement entities in order to consolidate this culture of fear and intimidation of the press. Take, for example, Section 24 of the 2015 Cyber crime Act. This highly controversial provision states that any individual who intentionally releases content which is “false, for the purpose of causing annoyance” or “obstruction” is liable to be convicted. As a result, anyone found guilty of such thus faces a jail term of up to 3 years or a fine of up to ₦7,000,000, or both.
After the Cyber crime Act came into force in May 2015, the government wasted no time in using Section 24 as a tool against its opponents. In August 2015, popular Nigerian blogger Azare Musa Babale was arrested following his use of Facebook and Twitter to criticize the policies of Bauchi state governor Muhammad Abdullah Abubakar.
In June 2019, the State Security Service (SSS) began a nationwide crackdown on
“unpatriotic” Nigerians accused of using social media platforms to spread “misleading
statements” and “false accusations”. The timeline suggests that the government intentionally crafted the cyber crime Act as a tool to silence political opposition and dissent. It is no coincidence that the act was immediately succeeded by brutal internet crackdowns of “crimes” which use the same wording as the act. So our government has been using official legislation – masked as an attempt to protect us from the dangers of cyber crime – to violate our rights to freedom of speech.
This witch-hunt is not only an undemocratic and gross abuse of power; it is also contrary to
the rights promised to the Nigerian people under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria. The constitution explicitly states that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and
information without interference”.
The fact that the government is willing to publish legislation and enact policies that are
overtly against the constitution is a scary matter as it means that any of our constitutional
rights may be arbitrarily legislated into non-existence at any given time.
Freedom of speech and press is a right, not a privilege, owed to us by the federal government.
If we want all of our freedoms to be protected, we must hold both the federal and state
governments accountable for their vindictive anti-media campaigns.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.