In the Nigerian polity, there have been heated discussions around the regulation of social media.
This discussion was brought to the fore again after the #EndSARS protest, which was anchored largely on social media.
Social media was used for mobilization, reaching the international community among many other purposes. It got to a stage that the Chief Executive Officer of Twitter joined the campaign and even asked that donations be made to support the movement.
The Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has not hidden his support for regulating the social media, he was reported to have said that Nigeria should be able to regulate the social media whenever they want citing instances of China and other countries.
Desmond Elliot although later apologised also called for the regulation of the social media, he was reported to have said that if the social media is not regulated, it may end up ending the country.
With many opinions on social media, it is important to weigh-in on this development.
While Lai Mohammed was quick to mention the regulation of social media in China, he was not quick to point out that corruption is hugely frowned against in China and was not quick to mention that there are ways of reaching out to the government in China especially as a responsive government.
History has shown that many of the agitations anchored on social media have been caused by bad governance. When the people feel cut-out from the government, they fall back to the means they feel is accessible for them and in this case, the social media is a case of last resort.
Years before 2020, Nigerians had clamoured for a reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and tasked the government on this but nothing concrete was done, at least based on the continued atrocities of the SARS personnel.
In the wake of the protests against SARS, another hashtag was trending and this time, it was against banditry and insecurity in the North, those who pioneered this noted that they were tired of the incessant killings and all efforts to get more precise efforts by the government has failed, they went to Twitter to trend their thoughts.
In instances, we have seen the social media helping the government make better policies, the question should be why the social media has become scary to various stakeholders.
The power of social media is truly massive, the world is now more connected through it.
The first place to get information now is social media. I agree with the school of thought that there is a need to fight cybercrime and propaganda but I also am of the school of thought that in a country like Nigeria where leaders see themselves as gods, where economy management is poor, where corruption is almost legal and where citizens are begged for votes but shut-out after voting, the social media cannot be regulated.
I am also of the school of thought that while the menace of Fake news exists, the irresponsibility of those who should give the country better representation has strengthened fake news, in fact we have many stakeholders deploying same social media to their own bias advantage, we cannot regulate the social media to contain the failures of the government.
In Nigeria, media houses are gagged on what to report sometimes through laws such as the NBC Code and sometimes they are scared of losing patronage and at this, they shy away from fact reporting while opting for corporate values.
On the social media, Nigerians are some of the best minded persons, learning to create great moments from even bad times and standing together but when the government pushes them to the wall, the government should be blamed not the social media.
The social media has come to stay and it is important that the government understands that a citizenry that is vocal and visible is better than one which is in hiding and can launch without notice.
The best way to regulate the social media is to put in best efforts towards improving governance, if there is a need to prosecute anyone who has used the social media as a ground to propagate fake news, there are clear laws to do so and they can be exploited in this regard.
The government should not also forget that figures within the circle of government may be among the first to break the rule if social media is attempted to be regulated and if they will not be respecters of the law, there would be no need to create tension further in the environment.
For those countries that regulated the social media, they banked on local innovations and the fact that they are delivering the dividends of democracy. The dividends in Nigeria are looted, this is enough reason to give the people a voice and not steal their only solace; the social media.
Olanrewaju Oyedeji is the Coordinator, Digital Literacy Advocacy Club. He can be reached via [email protected]