The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday, restated the resolve of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to regulate the social media in its spirited bid to keep the country united.
Speaking at a media session with senior journalists in Lagos, the minister said the government would not fold its arms and allow the reckless use of social media to aggravate fault lines and throw the country into turmoil.
Mohammed, however, assured Nigerians that, in curbing the excesses of social media, the government had no plan to shut down the Internet nor stifle press freedom or free speech, as some have insinuated, adding that social media was here to stay.
To validate the government’s standpoint, the minister quoted former US President, Barack Obama to have said that the Internet and social media have helped to create the “single biggest threat” to democracy.
He also restated Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s call for more regulation of social media content just as he noted that other giant tech companies seemed to agree with Zuckerberg’s call.
While faulting the way some traditional media reported the last EndSARS crisis, especially the attack on security agents, Mohammed opined that “it seems you, unfortunately, fell for the hoax that there was a ‘massacre’ at Lekki Toll Gate. Almost all papers ran screaming headlines of massacre or killings at the toll gate the day after the October 20 incident, during which soldiers fired blank ammunition into the air to disperse protesters.”
He further asked: “Did you also fall for social media manipulation of the events that transpired that evening? No group was better placed than you to lead the narrative of what happened that night, but it seems you ceded that authority to social media, which has no time for the rigours of gate-keeping or fact-checking. I hope in reviewing your coverage of the whole crisis, you will rectify that anomaly.”
In reporting the crisis, the Minister argued that the media paid less attention to the barbaric and gruesome murder of security agents by hoodlums.
While everyone was fixated on the fake massacre at Lekki Toll Gate, few paid attention to the way and manner policemen and soldiers were killed. In particular, policemen were hacked down in the most gruesome manner that calls into question the sanity of their killers. Yet, these security agents were treated as sub-humans. Human Rights organisations all but ignored the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed, some of them dismembered and cannibalised. The media report of the killings was perfunctory, at best,” he lamented.
Mohammed disclosed that eight medium-security custodial centres in six states (Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi) were attacked, with 1,957 inmates, most of them dangerous criminals, set free.
“Add that to the fact that over 100 AK-47 rifles were stolen by hoodlums as they burnt police station after police station, and you will understand the gravity of the situation. The spectre of hoodlums, armed with AK-47, roaming the streets and our roads, will send jitters down the spine.
Now, this is hunting all of us. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have succeeded in scaring policemen off their beats. Today, many of them are even afraid to wear their uniform. And the result has not been pleasant, in terms of security of life and property. We all owe it a duty to empathise with and appreciate our security agents and should resist the temptation to tar all of them with the same brush. No life is more important than the other, and respect for human rights should not be selective. I want to commend the state governments that have taken bold steps to shore up the morale of the police. While at it, I want to remind all of us of the saying that a society that makes war against its police had better learnt to make friends with its criminals,” he said.
According to the minister, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down. In addition, he said the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt, looted, vandalised, 243 government facilities burnt, vandalised and 81 government warehouses looted.
“On our part, as a government, we have started a review of the whole EndSARS crisis. 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. This is in addition to what we are doing in meeting the media stakeholders. A Federal Government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders. The outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the government,” he said.