Nigeria State Security Service on Wednesday announced a nationwide crackdown on individuals allegedly caught posting inciting materials on the Internet, in a move that could provoke fresh debates about the potency of Nigerian Constitution’s free speech safeguards.
The SSS said it had recently observed that some social media users were skewing Nigeria’s history to promote ethnic violence and tip the nation into crisis, a development it said must be urgently reversed through state interference.
The secret police’s spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, said in a statement that some “unpatriotic” Nigerians have been using social media platforms to make “unguarded public statements and/or use the social media platforms to instil fear in the minds of citizens”.
“These are reflected in the misleading statements and articles being circulated among unsuspecting members of the public. Such inciting materials oftentimes are designed to make or convey false accusations by one group against the other” he also said.
The SSS said it was “determined to ensure that the tribal chauvinists and mischief makers do not continue to exploit socio-political differences and Internet platforms to threaten the peace and stability of the country.”
The service said regional and community elders should not only desist from making “unguarded statements” but also help shut down all ethnically-charged rhetoric by persons in their respective domains.
The SSS vowed to “sustain the apprehension and prosecution of defaulters,” because it would not relent in its quest to prevent crimes and keep Nigeria as an indivisible country.
The Nigerian government has invested heavily in tracking tools to keep social media users in check, even though the practise remained largely non-transparent and constitutionally problematic.
Speaking on the new development, Adeboye Adegoke, an Internet rights expert with Paradigm Initiative, had this to say “It is a development that does does not come as a surprise,” “The foundation for this was laid in the past three-two five years with investments in monitoring and policing speech by the Nigerian government.”
Mr Adegoke described the SSS’ action as scary and aimed at fostering an atmosphere of fear amongst Nigerians online.
“What we are seeing is a scary dive dive into a climate of fear, a chilling effect in which case citizen will have to think twice before sharing opinion especially those opinions that do not paint the incumbent in good light.”
“The Constitution is clear on the rights of citizens to express opinions. The government does not have to like such opinions,” Mr Adegoke said.