Cybercrimes Act and Freedom of Expression in Nigeria
Sherif Quadri started the Morning Crossfire show on 99.3 Nigeria Info by mentioning that the cybercrimes Act was enacted in 2015 to curtail the rate of cybercrimes in Nigeria. While this is laudable, it is said that there is more to the Act than really meets the eye. In August 21, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari raised concerns of Nigerians by a statement he made.
“I was distressed to notice that comments especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far.”
--Muahammadu Buhari, 2017
Sometime in 2018, the federal government came up with a directive to security agents to monitor the social media of prominent Nigerians in a bid to restrain any form of hate speech. However, the cybercrimes Act not only cut the rate of crime acts in the country but also restrained the freedom of expression of the citizenry.
“If you look at the cybercrimes Act, it was created to provide a legal framework,” Adeniyi Kunnu began. “People are supposed to be aware of how far they can go particularly as it concerns critical matters of infrastructure if they are talking about the banking sector, or the security situation of the country, or certain things that could expose the country.
“Part of the reasons why Edward Snowden has been a guest of Russia for many years is due to the fact that certain information shouldn’t have gotten out through him. He was a contractor with the USA and was able to get some of the information he put out from them. Certain things should have been done and kept in private but they were not kept private.
“In Nigeria, I believe that we all have freedom of speech but this freedom should be used very responsibly. Take a look at the recent Ebola story. It is not true that Ebola is in Nigeria but certain persons using the social platforms spread the news, unsettled Nigerians, and almost got people afraid of going about their daily businesses.”
Nigerian journalists are harassed and arrested whenever they publish a statement or article that upsets people in political leadership. Where you have media platforms in a certain state in Nigeria that pro-government, it is often upsetting to find other platforms that tend to investigate what government is doing. For example, people often need to know what happened to their funds when they pay their taxes. Once the issue is financial, there is a tendency for government officials to get a bit jittery when media practitioners investigate their expenditure.
Kolawole in his contribution mentioned that SERAP would want to identify fully if the cybercrimes Act is truly constitutional and the body would also observe the waythe Act is used to silence the media, especially those in informal part of journalism in Nigeria.
“We have got a lot of work as regards to government using the cybercrimes Act to silence the voice of the media. Because of the strategic roles we play in the society we had to challenge section 24 of this Act which is about cyber stalking. The way the section is drafted makes it rather subjective in its use. For example, if you send someone a message and they consider it offensive, the sender could be in trouble,” Kolawole concludes.
Another angle to it is the report or investigation of corruption on high levels. Kunnu referred to a Nigerian journalist that was arrested about a year ago for reporting that government paid certain amount of money for the release of some Chibok girls. He went on to quote the sources of his report and that was the basis for his arrest – the source of the information he published.
Kunnu comments: “Even for a journalist to get some information, he may have to sign an understanding that should anything come, he will not divulge the source of his information.”
It is widely believed that today in Nigeria, journalists are been hounded and suppressed by security agencies. Emenike, responding to Quadri on the phone said “Everybody knows that the environment we are living in is not very safe. Once politicians find a journalist writing stuff in opposition to what they do, they get upset but the journalist is just doing his job. We know what the security situation in Nigeria is because sometimes, these security people are on the pay-roll of some individuals. They just don’t care about making any type of investigation; they just do it because they want to get at you. When the journalist has got through some level of stress, then they may tell him that they are sorry, he can go.
“The way the cybercrimes Act is crafted is to make sure that journalists are silenced,” continues Emenike “and unable to carry out their duties in the normal way they should. To make the situation worse, it appears that some journalists have been ‘bought over’ but that should not be a problem because no arrests should be made on assumptions. There has to be enough cogent reasons for an arrest to be made.”
Many journalists are not seeing the operations of the Act as justified. They see it as a means of harassing journalists. There are those who believe that although the Act is in itself not perfect, it is the implementation that creates a whole lot of problems.
Follow the conversation CLICK HERE
CYBERCRIMES ACT & FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN NIGERIA
Morning Crossfire with Wemimo (@wemimospot) & Sheriff (@SheriffQuadry), alongside Adeniyi Kunnu (@Mautin777)
Guest: Deputy Director of SERAP Kolawole Oluwadare,