The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has begun ramping up efforts to regulate online media in Nigeria, just two weeks after Twitter was indefinitely banned in the West African country.
Now, the federal government has asked that the House of Representatives pass a law that will enable the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to control all forms of internet broadcasting and social media. Many Nigerian users believe that this is but further attempts to stifle the country’s civic space – effectively crippling free speech and public dissent online.
Nigeria Govt is asking House of Reps to amend the NBC Act and include “internet broadcasting”.
That means all online radio/TV stations must register with NBC and Lai Mohammed. This is social media censorship brought back through the back door.
Lend your voice. Say no. Speak up!
— #OurFavOnlineDoc 🩺🇳🇬🇬🇧💎 (@DrOlufunmilayo) June 17, 2021
Amendment of the NBC act;grafting the shoot of autocracy.
— Senator Shehu Sani (@ShehuSani) June 17, 2021
NBC Amendment Bill = Social Media Bill + Hate Speech Bill in disguise.
— Ayemojubar (@ayemojubar) June 17, 2021
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, made the request on Wednesday during a public hearing organised by the house committee on information, national orientation, ethics and values on a new bill to amend the NBC act.
NBC already controls all television and radio broadcasting in the country. TechCabal reports that this is due to provisions in Section 2(b) of the NBC Act.
The provisions state that “the Commission shall have [the] responsibility of receiving, processing and considering applications for the establishment, ownership or operation of radio and television stations including cable television services, direct satellite broadcast and any other medium of broadcasting.”
Mohammed now also wants the commission to regulate online media transmission, as well as other channels of broadcasting.
“I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have a responsibility to monitor contents, including Twitter,” the minister told the House.
Freedom of Expression at Risk
The government’s requests into total Internet control has led to widespread criticism from users and news outlets. Fears over the Buhari Administration clamping down on free speech and Internet Freedom have led to several media stakeholders in the country asking the House to remove online media from under the NBC’s mandate.
They have also requested that the Minister of Information be separated from the commission.
Akin Akingbulu, executive director of the Institute for Media and Society, says that the commission should not receive directives from the Information Minister.
“The power to give directives to the commission, vested in the Minister of Information in section 6 should be removed and replaced with powers which include policy formulation for the broadcasting sector,” Akingbulu says.
Nigerians continue finding Internet Freedom through VPNs
Despite the countrywide Twitter ban, Nigerian users continue to use the service without fear of Government reprisal through affordable Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Recently, ITNA spoke to Harold Li, the Vice-President of ExpressVPN about the country’s Twitter ban and how VPNs ensure that users cannot be traced by the government or by anyone.
Nigerian users who fear that their Internet freedoms, which they pay their ISPs for, may be taken away should consider subscribing to a VPN sooner rather than later.