“You cannot regulate what you are not in control of”: Nigerian Cleric to Gov’t over SMedia

A Catholic Cleric in Nigeria has faulted government attempts in the West African nation to regulate social media engagement saying it is “an effort in futility” since State officials are not even “in control” of the online platforms.

“The government should not think of regulating social media. They should be very careful. You cannot regulate what you are not in control of,” the National Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Fr. Mike Umoh has been quoted as saying.

The Cleric who was speaking at an interactive session with journalists covering the activities of the Church advised the federal government “to abandon the idea of seeking to clampdown on the use of social media.”

“The best thing to do is for you to check yourself and re-focus, if the social media messages are against you,” Fr. Mike said during the November 10 event.

Noting that any move to regulate social media will amount to “an effort in futility,” the Nigerian Cleric urged the government to “concentrate more on the formation of characters of the youths.”

“There are so many social and behavioral problems caused by the wrong use of social media, which the government can correct for the general good of the society,” he added.

Last year, Nigeria’s Senate re-introduced the ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’ that sought to regulate social media engagement in the West African nation. The bill was first considered in 2015 but failed to pass into law after public outcry.

The legislation, which prohibits statements on social media “likely to be prejudicial to national security” and “those which may diminish public confidence” in Nigeria’s government has attracted condemnation from various stakeholders including a section of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese described the proposed law as a “short walk to totalitarianism” in Africa’s most populous country.

“This Bill is redundant, stale, superfluous and a fraud. We will fight it with all our energy. It is rotten yoghurt being marketed beyond its expiration date. We should reject it as a totalitarian attempt to circumscribe our hard-earned freedom,” Bishop Kukah said 27 November 2019.

In his address to journalists November 10, the CBCN National Director of Social Communications urged Nigeria’s Federal and State governments to “concentrate on ushering in development and social reformation than thinking about regulating the Internet.”

Reflecting on the EndSARS protests in the West African nation, Fr. Mike called for a “transparent and sincere enquiry into the issues that led to the protests by Federal and State governments to ensure that justice is done.”

“The Government should not toy with the demands made by the youths during the EndSARS protest,” Fr. Mike said, adding that “the matter has taken the form of a revolution that needs careful handling.”

He emphasized, “EndSARS is a revolution and it is a phenomenon. It is a revolution that is bigger than any government and it is a phenomenon that will outlive any government.”

Thousands of Nigerian youth took to the streets to protest against police brutality in October after a video that showed a purported officer of the defunct SARS killing a man appeared online.

The height of the demonstrations was October 20 when army officers allegedly opened fire and killed at least 12 protesters in Lagos.

Following the demonstrations, a Federal High Court Judge made an order for the accounts of twenty people linked with the protests to be frozen for “a period of 90 days pending the outcome of investigations being carried out by the Central Bank of Nigeria,” Reuters reported.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) had also seized the passport of Modupe Odele, a lawyer who offered pro bono services to protesters who were arrested during the demonstrations.

In a Tuesday, November 10 report, the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins advised the government to “tread with caution in its handling of prominent figures in the #ENDSARS protests that recently rocked the nation.”

For Archbishop Adewale, a cautious handling of demonstrators is important “so that wounds that are gradually being healed would not be reopened and the hope that trust would gradually be restored may not be lost again.”

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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