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Buhari plans move on social media; his communication challenges

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Buhari has two options: Either he hires people savvy in social media to handle his media needs or he would clamp down on social media outlets and restrict access, which undermines freedom. – Author

From a careful observation, it would seem that the government of President Buhari is in the final stages of a major move on the media and communications. The firing today of the DGs of several government media outlets, NTA, VON, etc is part of this move.

Also, the government has directed the Nigerian Communications Commission to regulate Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc., with the obvious view of bringing them under government’s control.

First, let us accept that most governments which are capable of doing it, do regulate these social media outlets – China, Turkey, etc have done that recently. It is nothing new by world standards that Buhari would try it. 

However, it is new in Nigeria because no previous government has tried to regulate the social media in Nigeria.

The question is whether Nigeria has the capacity to do so. Second is whether Nigeria could do so in a manner that does not erode significant gains made in recent times in the area of freedoms of speech and empowerment of the people through social media access.

That takes us to another question: Why would Buhari consider this a priority for his government? The fact is that Buhari would have to do this. Otherwise, his government cannot withstand the onslaught of the burgeoning people’s power.

Buhari, following Jonathan, has faced unprecedented attacks and criticisms coming from people on social media. The traditional media have been too feeble and too corrupt to effectively check the abuse of government powers. The people of Nigeria were able to overcome this through the social media.

From a strategic standpoint, Buhari has two options. Either he hires people savvy in social media to handle his media needs or he would clamp down on social media outlets and restrict access, which undermines freedom. 

Unfortunately, it seems the government is choosing the worse of the two options. But can it succeed? The answer is probably no. They may be able to better track what people like me do on the social media, because I am already well-known to them. But that is just as far as they would get. 

The people we pity the most are the civil servants, who would lose their jobs as part of government retaliation for them expressing critical views of government. The Nigerians overseas, who are actually the major drivers of social media activism, shall remain untouchable, especially if they take steps to disguise their true identities. That is in face of a full blown government repression.

It is too early to tell the full impact of the move by government. But DPA is here to challenge the government if it tries to suppress the people’s freedom of expression.

Emeka Ugwuonye


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