Journalism professional bodies and indeed officials of the Nigerian Press organization (NPO) comprising the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should be vigilant about the new project of Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture: strange social media regulation project.

The tone for this new bugbear has just been set with the Minister’s repeated warning that the government of Buhari would, “no longer fold its arms and allow activities capable of setting the country on fire to continue unchecked”.

According to the former spokesperson of the ruling APC, the social media is “currently out of control, featuring “fake news” and “hate speech” and like the broadcast media, needs to be reined in. Besides, they have the potential to harm the country’s democracy and threaten “national unity”.

And here is the thing, now that the apex court has rounded off all serious petitions over the 2019 presidential election, there is an urgent need to look beyond Lai Mohammed and meretricious regulation of the social media.

I mean senior citizens and patriots who want democracy to be sustained here should begin to look at a possible rise of a strongman who may want to tamper with press freedom again for some curious agenda.

I mean our President, Muhammadu Buhari who said that, “it’s time to move on” now that the Supreme Court has dismissed all petitions against his victory, may return to the country soon to begin a strange project against freedom of expression in Africa’s most populous country. We need to be vigilant. We need to be more resourceful because the already disorganised opposition party is going to be weaker as more of their assets will soon cross over to the governing party in pursuit of food and vainglory.

The political class here has always been unreliable. And sadly, the power elite hasn’t got any clear consensus on what to do with the country beyond a flurry of many tales told by simpletons, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The press has been weakened by poor capitalisation, nurtured by some dubious proprietary interests, which have undermined its independence. And so, any strong man can rise now with strange doctrines and extra-legal policies to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

There is already a fertile ground for any evil to thrive in today’s Nigeria where a Chief Justice was removed within weeks by an administrative tribunal without any judicial pronouncements. We are talking of a country where even opposition figures, civil society organisations, citizen journalists, mainstream press and even the Bar Association cannot raise any questions about what ails the leader of the most populous black nation on earth who is again in the United Kingdom until November 17, this year. I am talking of a country of anything-is-possible where soldiers will just rise and declare a strange search on all citizens of about 200 million people because they are looking for insurgents who they claimed have escaped from two states of a federation of 36 states.


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Despite all these, I believe in Nigeria where so many young men and women are prospering without any critical infrastructure and flexible loans to do business. I believe Nigeria will rise again when these villains and scoundrels in power all over the federation fizzle out soon. That is why I want to appeal again, for us to be more vigilant. I am calling on all citizens to continue to keep vigil over this democracy as I did on 14 October, 2018 in a piece titled, ‘Keeping vigil over this democracy’
(https://guardian.ng/opinion/keeping-vigil-over-this-democracy).

I would also like to encourage the growing army of concerned (old and young) citizens to be ready from any eventuality from our president who may return from London to implement his new deal called ‘social media regulation’ even the federal executive council (FEC) has approved.

It will be recalled too that I also warned here too on August 19, 2018 about the possibility of president Buhari tampering with press freedom again in another article titled, ‘Before Buhari tampers with Press freedom again’https://guardian.ng/opinion/before-buhari-tampers-with-press-freedom-again/.

We should really be vigilant enough to recognise emerging rule of a strongman in this country. Whenever you see strong words coming against the media inform of mulling malicious regulation instead of taking erring media men to court, you should get prepared for the arrival of strongmen.

Our strongman who is resting in Europe at this moment is satisfied that he has conquered us with the wobbly democracy we have in place now without strong institutions to nurture it.

The elements of a functional democracy always include part or all of the following: participation of the people either directly or indirectly, independent judiciary, separation of powers, the rule of law, the respect for fundamental rights, free and fair elections, multi-party system, freedom of the press, accountability and transparency of governance process, among others.

Is it therefore surprising that everywhere you go in Nigeria today, speakers and keynoters are saying openly that Nigeria still requires capable, reliable, and sustainable institutions: strong and credible legislature; capable police forces; independent judges; a free press; a vibrant private sector and a reliable civil society to give life to our democracy.This is where a strongman can thrive…

As ‘The Economist’ warned in a cover in 2018, “…the world should be worried about the rise of strongman politics”. Now, I need to sensitise our people to get prepared for war on truth.

There may be some curious correlation between the strategic launch of war on (social) media, failed attempt to regulate the civil society and the military’s takeover of internal security role from police in the name of operation positive identification (OPI) at this time. I hope no one will insinuate that there may be some third term agenda in all these curious warming-up activities to launch emergence of strongman politics.

Inside Stuff with MARTINS OLOJA was first published in The Guardian of Sunday, November 3, 2019.


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