By JAMES EZEMA
The Partnership for Media and Democracy (PAMED) has called on the Federal Government to restrain the Nigerian Army from monitoring the social media activities of Nigerians, describing the action as a violation of the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and the privacy of their communications as guaranteed by the Constitution and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party.
PAMED, comprising International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the Institute for Media and Society (IMS), said in a statement in Lagos that it had painstakingly studied the declaration by the Nigerian Army that it would henceforth monitor the social media for alleged ‘anti-government, anti-military and anti-security’ information and expressed concern that such a move provides enormous opportunities for abuse of power and the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Nigerians by the military.
The Director of Defence Information, Major-General John Enenche, had on August 23, 2017, during a live programme on Channels Television said that “the move became necessary in the light of troubling activities and misinformation capable of jeopardizing the unity of the country”.
He specifically declared: “What are we doing? In the military, we are now taking on it more seriously than ever.
“We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security”.
The body made its stand on the development in a statement signed by Director, International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, the Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, and the Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu.
Speaking on the weighty implications of the military’s position, PAMED said the declaration has a lot of grave implications, because if the threat is carried out it could, among others, lead to “the violation of the right of freedom of expression as constitutionally guaranteed for Nigerians and as protected by important international instruments and charters, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to mention a few”.
The body also observed that it could lead to “the undermining of the right of the public to know about the activities of the government including the security agencies which in a democracy are subordinate to civil authorities;
“The non-guarantee of the safety of media professionals, especially online journalists and those covering the activities of the military;
“The incapacitation of the media to carry out the obligation to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people as stipulated in section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended;
“The infringement of the right of opposition political parties to take the ruling parties at the Federal, State and Local levels to task on their policies, programs and performance;
“The breach of the right of the electorate to hold elected politicians accountable for their campaign or electoral promises; and
“The encroachment of the right of the civil society, unions, pro-democracy activists, etc to express dissent over government policies they may consider injurious to their collective and/or individual interests”, the PAMED.
PAMED said in view of the serious implications of the Army’s declaration, the army authorities should “immediately withdraw the threat to monitor the social media for alleged anti-government, anti-security and anti-military information as it is antithetical to democratic principles and values”.
The Partnership also called on the army authorities to promptly dismantle any media centres it might have established “for this unwelcome purpose”.