Nigeria has over 48 million internet users and rapidly growing social media usage. Currently there are more than 6.6 million1 Facebook accounts in Nigeria and an aggressive Twitter community, eyeing the governments every move. Internet penetration, alongside social media usage in the country is surging and driving political, social and cultural shift, especially among the young and middle aged.
The Nigerian agency, Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), plans to enter a new field beyond its duties and draw up possible regulations for the use of social media in Nigeria. “As it now obtains, all manner of things are uploaded on the various platforms of the Social Media without recourse to age and sensibilities of the users,” Benjamin Ezra Dikki, The Director General of BPE, said.2 Mr Dikki intends to place heavy restrictions on the use of social media in Nigeria with the help of the Bureau and it’s authority.
This is not the first we’ve heard of censorship in Nigeria. In August 2012, Senate President David Mark said that a censorship of social media is necessary as people use the media to demean their leaders. Tuale Naija quotes the Senate President in his own words: “We need to change our attitude on how we report things about our country and we should emulate the foreign reporters who never report negative things about their countries.” He later backed down after a serious social backlash greeted his calls. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, also made similar plans – to control how political parties use social media – after the 2011 general elections, but failed.
A Nigerian non-governmental organisation has urged the Government to drop its threat to censor social media, pointing out that such a threat “an only continue to strangle freedom of expression and limit the accountability of government.” It is uncertain if the clamouring for social media regulations would really go through, one reason being that the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan frequently uses Twitter and Facebook, where he communicates many of his plans and thoughts. He even has a social media public relations team, all on the payroll of the government.
Since the Nigerian social media community offers liberation from traditional social, political and cultural restrictions, it is most important that this censorship never sees the light of day. With the elections in Nigeria two years away, it is likely that restrictions on social media use may once again be strongly rejected by the people.
1 As of September 2013
2 According to Premium Times Nigeria [Premiumtimesng.com].