When on 29th June 2021, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), announced the arrest of the Igbo irredentist and Biafra agitator, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, it was received with mixed feelings. While some Nigerians see in the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a benign irritant, an innocuous chatterbox, others believe he is a combustible rabble-rouser who meant business – the balkanisation of Nigeria. This latter category of Nigerians points to the havoc wrecked by members of his organisation in the Southeast, based on his alleged orders. President Buhari and members of his cabinet fall in this latter category.
However, some who saw nothing wrong in the manner Mazi Kanu was arrested and brought back to Nigeria were taken back with the midnight raid on the Soka, Ibadan home of the self-styled Yoruba nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo (aka Sunday Igboho) by officials of the Department of State Service (DSS). The manner of the raid and the fact that it was carried out without a search warrant – regardless of an allegation of recovery of arms at the residence- as well as the cold-blooded murder of two of the occupants of the building, left many flabbergasted.
Indeed, the raid was the most recent in the series of undemocratic, anti-people policies and actions symptomatic of a police state that the country is fast becoming. Few instances will suffice.
Not long ago, the federal government announced a ban on the operation of Twitter, a microblogging site over sundry allegations, including non-payment of tax and use of the platform to promote succession agenda, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, Minister of Information and Culture, also cited an alleged use of the platform during the October 2020 #EndSARS protest to mobilise Nigerians against the government.
But not many Nigerian’s were bemused. The fact that the ban came few hours after the United States of America-based social media platform took down President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet is not lost on Nigerians. There is no gainsaying the fact that the site has in recent years become a rallying point among Nigerian youths for the promotion of self-consciousness across the country.
A few weeks ago, some members of DSS reportedly stormed Abuja-based Dunamis International Gospel Centre (Glory Dome) and whisked away 5 worshippers of the church (protesters). Their “sin” was simple, wearing “Buhari Must Go” T-shirts.
I recall during a protest at the famous Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in January 2012 where some protesters carried an effigy of Goodluck Jonathan, then President, casket. No one was arrested, no one was prosecuted. At the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2014, the incumbent President and some of his APC coteries staged a protest in Maiduguri, Borno State. The government of the day at the time didn’t see the action as subversive. Indeed, gone are those days!
Until it was withdrawn in July, the government envisioned banning protests across the country. The bill which had already passed the first reading at the House of Representatives proposed a five-year jail term for unlawful protesters in the country.
Sponsored by Emeka Chinedu Martins (PDP-Imo), the bill would have amended the Criminal Code Act, Cap. 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 “to further preserve the sanctity of human life and property, and to provide specifically for mob action, prescribe punishment and other matters”.
In the same vein, a total of N4.8 (4,870,350,000 billion only was reportedly allocated to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls, text messages, among others.
Of the figure, N1.93 billion was said to have been earmarked for “WhatsApp Intercept Solution” and N2.93 billion for “Thuraya Interception Solution” – a communications system used for monitoring voice calls or call-related information, SMS, data traffic, among others.
This was contained in the supplementary budget approved by the National Assembly
The lawmakers had approved and passed a supplementary budget of N982 billion (982,729,695,343) only for the 2021 fiscal year, against the N895 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari – indicating an increase of about N87 billion.
This budgetary allocation comes amidst several attempts by the federal government to limit freedom of expression in the country – an act many have described as a means to gag the media.
This comes barely a month after the federal government suspended the operation of Twitter in the country on 4th June 2021.
Besides, the National Assembly, particularly lawmakers at the House of Representatives, is in the process of amending several media bills with the aim of “regulating the media”. Some of these bills include the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act and the Press Council Act. Mr Mohammed had in June, asked the House of Representatives to include internet broadcasting under the control of NBC.
“I want to add that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in the bill,” Mr Mohammed said at a public hearing. Similar proposals are contained in the Press Council Amendment bill. And the bills, if passed with the recommendation of Mr Mohammed, online media entities will have to get approval from the NBC before operating.
Minister Muhammed has never hidden his government’s desire to censor access by Nigerians to social media. During the defence of his ministry 2021 budget at the House of Representatives, Mohammed noted that social media is the platform of choice for those who propagate fake news, adding that there is an urgent need for a national policy to curb excesses and misuse.
The Minister also underscored the need for deployment of resources to acquiring relevant technology that would enable the government to dominate and control the nation’s social media platforms.
“If you go to China, you cannot get Google, Facebook, or Instagram but you can only use your email because they have made sure that it is regulated
“In June this year, there was a riot in Ethiopia when a popular musician was killed. What Ethiopia did to curtail the crisis that followed was to shut down the social media for two days, even when Ethiopia hosts the AU”.
The first casualty in a tyrannical system is always the press. Hope Nigeria is not on the road already.