FG has no plan to shut down Internet or stop free speech – Lai Mohammed

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The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said contrary to insinuations by some persons, the Federal Government has no plan to shut down the Internet or stifle press freedom and free speech. He said the government acknowledged that social media had come to stay.

He however stressed that the government would not sit by and allow a reckless use of social media to aggravate the country’s fault lines and throw it into turmoil.

The minister, who spoke with journalists in Lagos on Friday, said fake news and disinformation aggravated the violence that followed the #EndSARS protests crisis.

Mohammed added, “This development has strengthened our resolve to work with stakeholders to stop the abuse of social media. It has also rekindled the debate on the need to regulate social media content, a debate that is not limited to Nigeria.

“Former United States President, Barack Obama, has said the Internet and social media have helped to create the ‘single biggest threat’ to democracy. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for more regulation of social media content. Other giant tech companies seem to agree. On our part, we will not sit down and allow a reckless use of social media to aggravate our fault lines and throw the country into turmoil.

“But in curbing the excesses of social media, rest assured, gentlemen, that we will neither shut down the internet nor stifle press freedom or free speech, as some have insinuated. We also acknowledge that social media is here to stay.”

Meanwhile, the minister maintained that there was no massacre at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, adding that it was surprising that less attention was paid to the barbaric and gruesome murder of security agents by hoodlums during the crisis.

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He added, “In particular, policemen were hacked down in the most gruesome manner that calls into question the sanity of their killers. Yet, these security agents were treated as sub-humans. Human rights organisations all but ignored the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed, some of them dismembered and cannibalised.

“For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down. In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalised, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalised and 81 government warehouses looted.”

Now, this is hunting all of us. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have succeeded in scaring policemen off their beats. Today, many of them are even afraid to wear their uniform. And the result has not been pleasant, in terms of security of life and property.

“We all owe it a duty to empathise with and appreciate our security agents, and should resist the temptation to tar all of them with the same brush. No life is more important than the other, and respect for human rights should not be selective.”

He said the government had started a review of the crisis that erupted after the #EndSARS crisis.

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