The government said it had come up with the controversial policy to monitor and curb hate speech among the elite.
Among those who described the move as evil and unconstitutional were the Nigeria Labour Congress; the House of Representatives; Senator Shehu Sani and five senior lawyers.
The Peoples Democratic Party also kicked against the government’s decision, saying it was aimed at muzzling the opposition.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Council against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), while noting that hate speech needed to be curbed, however, described the government’s move as obnoxious and anti-democratic.
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had, on Thursday, said he had directed security agencies to tackle those propagating hate speech especially through the social media.
He said special attention should be given to notable Nigerians while tackling the menace.
According to him, the directive was given at a meeting of the National Security Council presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday.
Social media accounts monitor order, breach of constitution –Reps
But the House of Representatives condemned the directive, saying the decision infringed on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians to free speech.
It said the 1999 Constitution guaranteed the right to free speech, adding that it would be an illegality to attempt to monitor the social media contents of Nigerians.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, advised the Federal Government to reconsider its decision.
He stated, “We are in a democracy. The constitution guarantees the right to free speech.”
FG planning to muzzle opposition — PDP
In its own reaction, the national leadership of the PDP alleged that the Federal Government was planning to muzzle the opposition with its threat to clamp down on users of social media who engaged in hate speech.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, said it would be wrong for the government to hide under the allegation of hate speech to arrest people with opposing views.
Ologbondiyan said, “The government must first of all define what is hate speech. It must tell Nigerians what constitutes hate speech.
“There is no way members of the opposition like the PDP and even progressives members of the APC will not condemn or criticise the government and the APC when they fail to live up to expectations.
“We will not allow them to instil fear into us as a party. We all know what and how the APC came into power with false propaganda, using the social media.
“Now that they know that they have performed poorly and elections are coming, they think they can use that threat to scare us from doing our job. That will fail.”
But the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Bolaji Abdullahi, said though he had yet to know the details of the policy as explained by the defence minister, the ruling party would not support any law meant to stifle free speech among Nigerians.
“I don’t have details of what the honourable minister said but I can tell you that the APC will not be a party to anything that will abridge the rights of citizens to free speech,” the APC spokesman told SUNDAY PUNCH.
“We also subscribe to the principles of responsible freedom of the press as enshrined in the constitution.”
SANs say policy unconstitutional
Also, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria – Sebastian Hon and Mike Ozekhome – berated the Federal Government for contemplating of monitoring the social media accounts of prominent Nigerians.
While Ozekhome said such move by the government was unconstitutional, another SAN, Emeka Ngige, noted that such could be easily abused and targeted at perceived political opponents.
Ozekhome stated, “It is unconstitutional and illegal for the Federal Government to monitor the social media accounts of Nigerians on account of what they consider to be hate speech. That is dictatorial, tyrannical and unconstitutional. It only shows the desperation of the government. It is a sign of a repressive government.”
Hon author of constitutional books, described the Federal Government’s directive as a breach of the citizens’ right to privacy and an attempt to gag them.
Hon said in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday that the directive was a show of insensitivity to the sufferings Nigerians were undergoing.
He added, “That directive offends the constitutional rights to privacy under Section 37 of the Constitution. It is also an attempt to gag Nigerians and also to inhibit their freedom of speech as guaranteed under Section 38 of the Constitution. It is an unconstitutional thing to do.
“Let me also remind the Federal Government that dictators had tried such before and they failed. It is counterproductive and also shows gross insensitivity to what is happening. People are suffering and spending hours on fuel queues and the government still says they shouldn’t think.”
Monitoring peoples posts obnoxious, anti-democratic –Sagay
In his reaction, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, rejected the idea of monitoring private citizens, saying it would be undemocratic.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, however, said there was a need to curb the spread of hate speech which he noted was on the increase.
Sagay added that anyone found culpable of spreading hate speech should be prosecuted by the authorities.
He said, “Definitely, hate speech is something to be condemned and while I don’t think we should engage in monitoring what people are saying, the issue now is ‘how else will the propagation of hate speech be stopped?’
“Social media has become a big tool for people to say all sorts and these things spread to millions of people sometimes. My opinion is that while there is basic freedom of speech and a right to use the social media at our disposal, we must do so within certain bounds of security and decency.
“So, while the issue of monitoring is a bit obnoxious, let me say that if anybody is found to have abused the right to freedom of expression by engaging in hate speech, he should be prosecuted. But I don’t support entirely the issue of monitoring because that will turn Nigeria to a sort of ‘Big Brother’ state, which is anti-democratic.”
Ngige, in its own reaction, said, “I have a mixed reaction. One, every Nigerian has the constitutional right to free speech. But that right is not a licence for hate speech. Therefore, if there are steps to guard against hate speech on the social media by the government, I support it.
“However, the government may want to and must not use it against the opposition or political opponents of the government. This must be guarded against.”
Also, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the directive by the Federal Government would lead to a violation of the rights of the citizens.
He told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the Federal Government could not carry out the monitoring without a court order.
He said, “Section 37 of the Constitution of Nigeria has guaranteed the fundamental right of every citizen to privacy of their home, telephone and correspondence.
“To the extent that emails, WhatsApp, twitter and SMS are part of the correspondence of notable Nigerians, the security agencies cannot monitor them without a court order.”
Sani faults VIPs’ posts monitor
Also, the lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, on his Twitter handle on Friday night, said the Federal Government would have achieved more on security if it had spent more resources on protection of lives and properties.
His tweet read, “If the energy, resources and time that will be dispensed in monitoring the social media labyrinth by the state security apparatus will be deployed in targeting and tracking kidnappers, militia men, terrorists, herdsmen, bandits and human traffickers, we will be safer.”
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, also condemned the harassment of social media users, bloggers and publishers in Nigeria and other African countries.
It’s an invasion of privacy, says NLC
On its part, the NLC described the planned social media monitoring as an invasion of privacy, noting that such action must follow due legal process.
The NLC Secretary-General, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, in an interview with one of our correspondents, agreed that there was the need to curb hate speech, noting that such utterances had played major roles in the breakdown of law and order in many countries, including African nations.
“It is a legal matter but generally, when they start monitoring individual’s social media account, it is an invasion of privacy.
“I think it is better to allow the lawyers to advise us, but in principle, it is an invasion of privacy of individuals. Unless under security purposes, it is not something that should be encouraged,” he said.
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