Information Minister Meets with Media Leaders, Warns on Danger of Social Media

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Lai Mohammed
  • Speaks on Borno rice field massacre, says calls for Buhari’s resignation irresponsible
  • Insists Boko Haram has been degraded

By Olawale Ajimotokan

The federal government has cautioned the Newspapers’ Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) about the malaise of social media as a source of information. It derided the social media as a purveyor of fake news.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed issued the caution on Thursday at a meeting with the members of NPAN in Lagos.

The meeting was on the heels of the recent protest by activists against police brutality and the Lekki Toll Gate incident where scores of protesters were allegedly shot by soldiers.

In strongest condemnation, Mohammed noted that social media was used for mobilisation of hoodlums and to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private.

He said that pictures of celebrities and even non-Nigerians who were supposedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate made the rounds on social media, only for those celebrities to later dispel the news, while discerning Nigerians also disproved many of those listed as killed at Lekki Toll Gate.

He said if the online editions of newspapers that attract a lot of traffic and that also leverage on social media in their publishing business were found to have carried fake news, they will end up losing their credibility and public trust, with disastrous consequences. “

This is why we have decided to enlist your support for our quest to ensure a responsible use of social media.

“Regulating content, which many have misinterpreted to mean stifling press freedom or free speech, is not peculiar to this country. It is a subject of debate in most parts of the world, especially the West. It is not true that the Federal Government will shut the internet. It is not our intention to stfile the press. What we have to do is to ensure a responsible use of social media. Why is this a problem, especially for responsible users of social media platforms?”
Mohammed said.

The minister also expressed concern that almost all newspapers fell for the hoax that there was a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, with screaming headlines of 70 or more people shot dead without a shred of evidence.

He described as baffling how newspapers, which were supposed to have reporters and photographers on ground at the Lekki Toll Gate, could fall for such a hoax by failing to lead the narrative with verifiable figures and well-grounded sources.

“Had the papers done this, perhaps the likes of CNN, which were misled by social media, would not have goofed so badly as they did. We want to appeal to you to carry out a painstaking review of your coverage of the protest and its aftermath, with a view to ensuring that such never happens again.

“Even when the Federal Government challenged CNN for its professional failure, reflected in the lack of balance and fairness in its so-called investigative report that relied solely on social media nuggets and videos, some newspapers still didn’t see what we saw, until CNN itself backtracked!” he said.

The minister urged NPAN, as a major stakeholder, to work with government and other stakeholders to check the menace of fake news and disinformation that has the capability to aggravate Nigeria’s fault lines as a nation and set its people against themselves.

He also challenged NPAN about the mindless and savage killing and maiming of security agents, especially police personnel and soldiers, during the protest.

Noting that while reports concentrated on the bogus massacre, the gruesome attacks on security agents became mere footnotes.

He warned that such was capable of demoralising the security agencies, stating that as the rights of all citizens, is upheld it must also be realised that security men and women have their own rights too.

Mohammed also condemned as cheap and irresponsible the call for resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari in the wake of recent killing of farmers by Boko Haram in Borno State as playing dirty politics with the issue of security. He said Buhari was elected in 2015 for a four-year term and re-elected in 2019 for another four-year term, adding no amount of hysterical calls for resignation will prevent him from serving out his term.

“Now, let’s put things in context. Before Mr.President assumed office, Boko Haram could stroll into any city, especially in the north, to carry out deadly attacks. Abuja, the nation’s capital, Kano, Maiduguri, Jos, Damaturu, etc were regularly targeted. Motor parks, churches, mosques, shopping complexes were not
spared. Today, that is a thing of the past.

“Suicide bombers used to have a field day detonating their bombs and killing innocent people.Today, that is no longer the case. Detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) used to be a deadly tactic of Boko Haram. Today, that has changed. Boko Haram used to occupy territory, deposing and installing Emirs and collecting taxes. That’s no longer the case.

“These changes are not mere happenstance. They are part of the successes recorded by the military, under this President. Therefore, calling on the President to resign every time there is a setback in the war on terror is a needless distraction and cheap politicking.
Let’s stop playing politics with the issue of security,’ Mohammed said.