Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term freedom of expression is usually used synonymously but, in legal sense, includes any activity of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used for instance Social Media.
However, Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, dignity, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury.
In Nigeria, the freedom of expression is protected by section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which is regarded as the grund norm and the supreme law of the land, little wonder Section 1(3) of the constitution clearly states ” If any law is inconsistent with this constitution, this constitution shall prevail and such other law shall to the extent of its inconsistency be void.
Similarly, the right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” The version of Article 19 in the ICCPR later amends this by stating that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”
The recent ban on Twitter by FG and the recent circular released by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information is no less an impediment to freedom of expression of Nigerians and a calculated attempt to turn Nigeria into a dystopian society, a similitude of the dystopian society captured by George Orwell in his novel 1984
The Minister said “We are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission,” said Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, of social media companies.
The new regulations will include conditions for continued operation, Mohammed said, without elaborating.
Nigeria’s government last week said it had suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the platform removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists. Nigerian telecoms firms have since blocked access to Twitter.
The minister went further to state “The Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria,” the statement read.
In a Democratic society decision which affects the general public are subject to debate, press conference, public opinion and referendum, the recent ban on the operations of twitter in Nigeria does not portray Nigeria as a Democratic state rather a Military/dictatorial government
He went further to state “Twitter has consistently made its platform available to those who are threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence,” said Mohammed, naming a separatist leader and anti-police brutality protesters.
In conclusion, Government should have taken frantic effort to apprehend and prosecute individuals that threaten the National Security of Nigeria on Twitter and not a clampdown of this media platform in totality.
Peter Ndubuisi Akpu is a Business Strategist, a philomath, a critical thinker and Public Affairs Analyst; studied Law differently at the Ebonyi State University and the Nigerian Law School.