By Lawrence Olaoye
The Presidency has said that the existing libel laws in the country are obsolete and never anticipated the emergence of social media.
While expressing support for the ongoing bill for the criminalization of hate speech in the Senate, the Presidency rejected the suggestion of death penalty for offenders.
In a statement made available to newsmen yesterday by Mr. Attah Esa, Deputy Director, Information in the Presidency, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu, who chaired the Kawararafa Media Award, gave the opinion on Sunday.
Shehu warned that leaving the social media to operate without regulation could result in more lawlessness, violence and deaths, stressing that the Federal Government is not against free speech.
The Presidential aide acknowledged that the emerging modern media platform had played a strong role in promoting information sharing, strengthening democracy, and building networks of relationships, but without supervision or control, the nation risks more havoc.
“For instance, the entire Kasuwan Magani saga that resulted in the death of more than 50 people was because someone posted misleading information on WhatsApp that went viral.
“All countries in the world are trying to make laws to check the excesses. Many countries are trying to control the situation. The Europeans have placed a new law that holds the companies responsible.
“In United Kingdom, the parliament has received a report on social media. There is a youth addiction to it, just like cigarettes. Without any form of control, it has done harm to women, ethnic minorities, individuals, institutions and countries,’’ he said.
Shehu said the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had consistently called for a meeting of stakeholders to agree on modalities for regulating the social media, but was rebuffed.
“The federal government is saying that stakeholders should come together and agree on regulation. We know that no matter how bad the situation it favours someone.
“Some have argued that our constitution already has laws in libel, but the laws of the ‘60s never anticipated social media.
“No government has the right to muzzle freedom of speech. We don’t support the taking of lives as punishment. People insult others and share false information on social media. I hope that hate speech will be tackled so that Nigeria will be a sane place to live in,’’ he added.
The Senior Special Assistant noted that in every part of the world journalists go through some form of training, accreditation and licensing before plying their trade, like doctors, but “with a phone, a tablet or laptop anyone can reach millions, sometimes for good and other times with ulterior motives.’’
Shehu said hate speech preceded the social media, but it was traceable through the media platform and controlled, explaining that the social media, while emerging, portends a great force, and needs to be regulated for safety and peaceful co-existence.
The Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina and Shehu were honoured with “Media Excellence of the Year.’’