One thing about the Buhari government is that it’s never met a problem it can’t ban. It doesn’t matter if it’s souvenirs at government events or a social media company that won’t allow the president tweet whatever he wants.
The government’s hard-on for banning or censoring things was what informed the ill-fated attempts to pass anti-social media bills, to regulate the spaces where Nigerians more freely express themselves. Those attempts have failed so far, but the Buhari government works harder than the devil so it’s no surprise there’s a new attempt.
While Nigerians celebrated June 13th, 2022, as a public holiday in honour of the June 12th democracy day, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) made an announcement. This announcement was about a draft document for the Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria. It’s quite a mouthful, but the summary of it is, “Attention kids, we have some brand new rules for online platforms in Nigeria.”
Before diving into the meat of the government’s
ransom demands, it’s important to note that much of the code is targeting the spread of “prohibited material” online. But what are prohibited materials according to this document? The list covers things that violate public interest, morality, order, security, peace and the rule of law. So…pretty much anything. Prohibited material could be amala slander, or calling the president an incompetent travel blogger.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a naming ceremony in Djibouti or a youth conference in Iceland, Bubu loves a good reason to travel.
So, what are these new rules that look like social media regulation, you ask?
NITDA wants online platforms to snitch on users
Sure, this snitching won’t happen without a court order (wink, wink), but online platforms are to provide any information to assist government agencies investigate and prosecute users. It wouldn’t matter if your Twitter handle is @precious_catfish76432, Twitter would have to hand over all that backend identifying information you don’t know they have.
24-hour order to delete “prohibited material”
If you post online that “Pounded yam is the most overrated swallow in the world”, and a Nigerian government agency flags it as unlawful content (and, let’s face it, we all know you’re lying here), the online platform is obligated to delete that post within 24 hours. Any information deemed to have violated Nigerian law gets the chop.
The government wants to slide directly into the DMs to
The NITDA code also mandates online platforms to open up dedicated channels for government agencies to directly lodge complaints on content deemed to be unlawful or harmful to others. These platforms also need to write their findings and resolutions of complaints to the complainant.
NITDA wants verification powers
NITDA also wants the online platforms operating in Nigeria to give it the power to verify official government accounts. The agency wants to reserve the right to grant or withdraw approval of verification and dictate action to the platforms.
The government is mandating the physical presence of online platforms operating in the country. This includes registering as a legal entity and appointing a designated country representative so they know whose shirt to hold when a platform disobeys orders from above.
Media education for users
The government also compels the online platforms to conduct media literacy programmes, educating users on critical thinking and informed decisions when they encounter false information online. Okay, maybe this one isn’t so bad because we need to know how to spot misinformation, disinformation and mass-report lies like this:
What’s the danger of the NITDA Code?
Like all of the previous attempts at social media regulation in Nigeria, the NITDA Code is another vessel to undermine citizen engagement in the final frontiers where government control is limited. The blanket definition of terms like “prohibited material” gives the government an undue advantage to further suppress the freedom of speech in Nigeria. This code affects platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok and Google.
What can Nigerians do?
Resist. The NITDA Code is still a draft copy for the public to review and offer feedback. You can email NITDA at email@example.com to give them constructive feedback. Before the code becomes operational, you can also contact your National Assembly representatives here and compel them to move a motion on the topic in the chambers. Your freedom to continue to say “Buhari has been a bad boy” depends on this repackaged social media regulation bill ending in the dustbin.
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