The Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is calling on the President to instruct the military to stop the monitoring of Nigerians on social media.
SERAP, a civil society organization, expressed displeasure at report of the new line of action taken by the military and addressed it as a violation of the constitutional rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and privacy online.
In a statement signed by the Deputy Director of the group, Mr Timothy Adewale, the organization called on the president to ensure that military operations complies with the country’s Constitution and obligation under international human right law.
SERAP noted that instead of the President enforcing the watching of the activities of Nigerians on social media by the military, he should develop and implement policies that would ensure technologies is used by everyone and should serve as basic tools for Nigerians to express themselves.
According to the Organisation
“Monitoring Nigerians on social media would criminalise their freedom and the activity of journalists that are critical of the government and censor the media from reporting on sensitive and critical information that is relevant to the public interest but controversial to the government. It would have a chilling effect on media activities in Nigeria, and pose a serious threat to the ability of Nigerians to meaningfully participate in their own government.”
The organisation’s letter followed sensationally reported statement by the Director of Defence Information, Major-General John Enenche ‘that the activities of Nigerians on the social media are now being monitored for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information by the military’. Ggeneral Enenche actually explained the look out as one directed as identifying “troubling activities and misinformation capable of jeopardising the unity of the country.”
However, the organisation’s reaction read further
“SERAP notes that protecting critical expression on the Internet is the standard by which governments are now held to be considered genuinely democratic. Nigerians should therefore be allowed to discuss government policies and engage in political debate; report on corruption in government; and exercise their right to expression of opinion and dissent. While we recognise the obligation to protect against hate speech that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence, this should not be used as a pretext to clampdown on legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression that does not constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Blanket clarification of expression that falls short of expression that constitutes incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination under international law can only limit media freedom and chill discourse deemed controversial or critical of your government.”
In the statement, the organization also quoted sections 37 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantee the Rights to Privacy and Freedom of Expression. Similarly, article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party protects Nigerians’ right to maintain an opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers. Under article 19(3) of the Covenant, restrictions on the right to Freedom of Expression must be “provided by law”, and necessary for “the rights or reputations of others” or “for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health and morals”.
“Further, article 17(1) of the Covenant provides for the rights of Nigerians to be protected, inter alia, against unlawful or arbitrary interference with their privacy and correspondence, and provides that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference. “Unlawful” means that no interference may take place except in cases envisaged by the law which in itself must comply with provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant.
The organization believes that articles 17 and 19 of the Covenant are closely related, as the right of privacy is required for the realization for the realization of right to freedom of expression”.
“SERAP notes the Human Rights Council resolution 20/8 on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet adopted on 5 July 2012, which affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice. It further called upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries”.