The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the military to immediately end any monitoring of Nigerians on the social media.
SERAP, in a statement yesterday by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale, also called on the president to ensure that military operations comply with the constitution and the country’s obligations under international human rights law
Instead of authorising the monitoring of Nigerians’ communication on the social media, SERAP called on the president to develop proactive and holistic policies that ensure technology is used to increase both freedom and security of Nigerians and ensure that everyone benefits from digital technology and not criminalised and penalised for using it.
SERAP also asked Buhari to focus on promoting open, transparent and democratic dialogue, and protecting those at risk of being attacked for their opinions, instead of monitoring or clamping down on freedom of expression and privacy online.
The civil society group urged Buhari to promote access to the Internet, in particular, the social media and other information and communication technology platforms, as basic tools for Nigerians to express themselves and participate in their own government.
It expressed concern that the monitoring of Nigerians on the social media by the military would directly violate the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and privacy online.
It said: “Instructing the military to end any such monitoring would help your government to defend and keep to its oft-repeated commitment to human rights, transparency and accountability.”
SERAP argued that monitoring the social media by the military was neither necessary nor proportionate, and could portray the administration as working to control the political and social media space.
“Classifying legitimate exercise of freedom of expression as ‘hate speech’ is counter-productive, in the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and privacy, Nigerians should be allowed to speak truth to power and stand up for their rights,” it added.
According to the CSO, monitoring Nigerians on the social media would criminalise their freedom and the activities of journalists that are critical of the government and censor the media from reporting on sensitive and critical information that are relevant to the public interest but controversial to the government.
“It would have a chilling effect on media activities in Nigeria and pose a serious threat to the ability of Nigerians to meaningfully participate in their own government,” it further said.
The organisation’s letter was in reaction to a statement by the Director of Defence Information, Major-General John Enenche that the activities of Nigerians on the social media were being monitored for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information by the military.
He justified this move on the alleged “troubling activities and misinformation capable of jeopardizing the unity of the country”.