By Ismaila Chafe
A Presidential media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, said on Monday that the Federal Government is not against free speech.
He however warned that leaving the social media to operate without regulation can result in more lawlessness, violence and deaths.
Shehu was quoted to have said this in a statement issued on Monday by Mr Attah Esa, the Deputy Director, Information, State House.
He was speaking at the Kawararafa Media Award in Abuja.
Shehu, who is the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, was chairman of the award ceremony organised by Kwararafa Reporters, a news magazine.
He said the emerging modern media platform had played a strong role in promoting information sharing, strengthening democracy, and building networks of relationships, but added that without supervision or control, the nation risks more havoc from such platforms.
“For instance, the entire Kasuwan Magani saga that resulted in the death of more than 50 people is because someone posted misleading information on Whats App that went viral.
“All countries in the world are trying to make laws to check the excesses. Many countries are trying to control the situation. The Europeans have placed a new law that holds the companies responsible.
“In United Kingdom, the parliament has received a report on social media. There is a youth addiction to it, just like cigarettes. Without any form of control, it has done harm to women, ethnic minorities, individuals, institutions and countries,’’ he said.
Shehu said the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had consistently called for a meeting of stakeholders to agree on modalities for regulating the social media, but was rebuffed.
“The Federal Government is saying that stakeholders should come together and agree on regulation. We know that no matter how bad the situation it favours someone.
“Some have argued that our constitution already has laws in libel, but the laws of the ‘60’s never anticipated social media.
“No government has the right to muzzle freedom of speech. We don’t support the taking of lives as punishment. People insult others and share false information on social media.
“I hope that hate speech will be tackled so that Nigeria will be a sane place to live in,’’ he added.
The president’s media assistant noted that “in every part of the world journalists go through some form of training, accreditation and licensing before playing their trade, like doctors, but with a phone, a tablet or laptop anyone can reach millions, sometimes for good and other times with ulterior motives’’.
Shehu said hate speech preceded the social media, but it was traceable through the media platform and controlled, explaining that the social media, “while emerging, portends a great force, and needs to be regulated for safety and peaceful co-existence’’.
The Chief Executive Officer of Kwararafa Reporters, Mr Emmanuel Bello, said the publication was non-political, and it rewards politicians, public servants, business executives and individuals with distinguished record of service to the nation.
The Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, and Shehu were honoured with “Media Excellence of the Year Award’’ at the event.