Between Twitter ban, fake news and Dele Giwa’s murder

Tuesday, 19th October, 2021 will mark the 35th year of the squalid murder of the Nigerian finest investigative journalist, Dele Giwa. He was coldly murdered through a venom letter bomb he opened to his face. 
Because Giwa’s murder was of conscience, for the media and in this epoch month of October that our country attained her Independence in 1960 after a protracted agitation from the colonial government, with the media playing the greatest role for her eventual freedom; there is no better time to write about the fate of the media and freedom of the press, speech and the conscience of an ordinary citizen of Nigeria than now.
Dele Giwa was pursuing the paths of truth and conscience for the defenceless Nigerians whose dreams he saw evaporating into the air of political uncertainty, poor governance in gross corruption. Because of these, he betrayed his own life that we might have a better nation in fullness of freedom to demand accountability and quality leadership. 
However, till today, Nigeria is still battling to grapple a prosperous nation. We are faced with reoccurrences of the government’s intolerance for all the inherent constitutional freedom we deserve.Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution particularly provides for the right to freedom of expression and the press. The purpose of entrenching this right is in the recognition that in democracy, the people hold diverse views and opinions especially as regards the government’s policies and programmmes. The right however is not without reasonable derogation.
 Under the military regimes, we witnessed egregious violations of all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Dissenting views and opinions on the government’s policies were always perceived intolerable. It was against this backdrop that Dele Giwa, Ken Sarowiwa amongst other Nigerians lost their lives under the military.
Interestingly, Chief Gani Fawehimi, a Nigerian foremost Human Rights Lawyer expressed the view that the worst democratic government is better than the best military regime. It is however uncertain whether this remark by Gani years ago could still stand the test of the reality in Nigeria today.
The present adminstration had tried on several occasions to put restrictions on the citizens’ freedom of speech. It was argued the depth at which the citizens were criticising the government was intolerable to the effect that a Bill was sponsored before the National Assembly to prevent what they perceived as “Hate Speech” and “ News” with the aim of regulating the free speeches of the citizens especially on Twitter platform which was regarded a dissident by the government.
As the world transit through an advancement in technology, governance, politics and the economy have become digital. It is on this record that something very usual happened in October 2020 which the Nigerian government found so strange. What metamorphosed into the EndSars Movement began on Twitter as online protests by Nigerians expressing their displeasures against the Special Anti-Robery Squad, a unit in the Nigeria Police Force accused of incessant extra-judicial killings of the innocent citizens.
The protests on Twitter was to turn out physical overwhelming the government. It was reported that the EndSARS protest was an historical mass movement by Nigerians against their government and to the government, it was a revolution looming. Given the intensity of the movement especially the protest at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos State, a commercial hub of the country, the Nigerian government developed disdain for Twitter where the perceived “Revolution” began.

Luckily for the government in search of a venom substance to murder a rat, Twitter deleted the post of President Muhammadu Buhari particularly the section warning those agitating for Biafra that they would be “treated in the language they understand.” Twitter’s interpretation was that the President statement violated it rules against incitement to violence as the statement to it was a call to another civil war in the country. The government on 5th June 2021 placed a ban on the operation of Twitter in Nigeria. .

The government posited that its ban on Twitter had became necessary in view of the platform’s accommodation of its citizens’ Fake News and the spread of misleading information thereby affecting the national security. Twitter soon engaged the government with a view to lifting the ban on its operation in Nigeria while the government placed some conditions to be complied with including but not limited to surrender to local contents, licensing by the appropriate national agency and fair tax policy. It is not yet clear whether when these conditions are met, Twitter’s Independence would be affected..

However, there is no gainsaying the fact that some Nigerians are found of abusing the social media including Twitter. The abuses of the online media platforms in Nigeria is not limited to fake news alone. It includes the nefarious activities of cybercrimes. Thus, the call to regulate the social media platforms could be fairly said to be relevant but for the government to order sudden shutdown of Twitter alone immediately after the deletion of Mr. President’s post revealed the height of disdain and personal frustration for the platform. .

For instance, if the government had tolerance and respect for the freedom and the rights of her citizens, the government should have engaged Twitter and maybe other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram on its intending policy of regulations with an ultimatum on ban when the conditions specified are not met. That is how a prudent adminstrative policy should be. It is about designing frameworks and implementation targets.Many Nigerians today are carrying out commercial activities in an online media platform like Twitter. It was reported that Nigeria economy lost over Six Billion Naira within a week of the ban on Twitter. In this era of digital economy, the roles of Twitter like any other platform cannot be overemphasised. The ban on Twitter has been protracted till today..

While on the occasion of Nigerian Independence Day celebration, the President was to inspire hope in the citizens but his statement on the conditions to lifting the ban on Twitter was a disappointing one. Given a speech on the occasion of the country’s celebration of her freedom, it ought to have been, as it should be, a proclamation of hope that the ban on Twitter was lifted in the interim with such conditions that Twitter is to fulfill on or before the expiration of an ultimatum or risk a reinstatement of its ban. .

As we approach the 35th Year Anniversary of the murder of Dele Giwa, a finest journalist who was killed that press and indeed an ordinary Nigerian may enjoy freedom of speech, we must all accept that our freedom dies with the freedom of the press such as Dele Giwa.Otiwe, a graduate of law from Kogi State University, Anyigba, writes from Abuja via [email protected], 08064188686