The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the military from monitoring Nigerians on social media and clamping down on perpetrators of hate speech.
SERAP made the request in a letter by Timothy Adewale, deputy director of the organisation. and sent to the president, in reaction to the purported directive of the federal government to the military to clamp down on culprits of hate speech.
The letter, sent to the president, was in reaction to the military’s announcement that it will be on the lookout for comments that could threaten the nation’s peaceful co-existence.
SERAP described the move as inappropriate and unnecessary, adding that it could portray the government as working to control the political and social media space.
The letter asked the president to “use your good offices and leadership position to instruct the military authorities to immediately end any monitoring of activities of Nigerians on the social media, and to ensure that military operations comply with Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and the country’s obligations under international human rights law”.
It further read: “Classifying legitimate exercise of freedom of expression as ‘hate speech’ is counter-productive, In 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.
“To monitor Nigerians’ access to social media solely on the basis that it may be used to express views critical of the government or the political social system espoused by the government is entirely incompatible and inconsistent with constitutional guarantees and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
“SERAP notes that protecting critical expression on the internet is the standard by which governments are now held to be considered genuinely democratic.
“Nigerians should therefore be allowed to discuss government policies and engage in political debate; report on corruption in government; and exercise their right to expression of opinion and dissent.
“While we recognize the obligation to protect against hate speech that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence, this should not be used as a pretext to clampdown on legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression that does not constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
“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 further urged Buhari to defend and keep to his promise of commitment to human rights, transparency, and accountability.
The organisation asked the president to develop “proactive and holistic policies that ensure that technology is used to increase both freedom and security of Nigerians and ensure that everyone benefits from digital technology and not criminalized and penalised for using it”.
It also asked the president to focus on promoting an 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.