The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has once again established the Federal Government’s commitment to the regulation of social media in Nigeria.

The minister at a media briefing on Thursday, November 19, 2020 said social media was used irresponsibly by ‘some unscrupulous persons’ to aggravate the widespread violence witnessed in the country in October following nationwide protests against police brutality.

Mohammed said social media was used to spread disinformation that worsened last month’s crisis, and noted that it reinforces the government’s resolve to regulate its use.

He said the government is determined to strike a balance between free speech, which it is committed to upholding, and social media disinformation that it’s determined to fight.

“While the government has no plans to shut down the internet, it will work with stakeholders to regulate social media to curb abuse,” he said.

Hundreds of Nigerians had peacefully protested in many states across the country in October to demand an end to years of wanton police brutality.

At least 15 protesters were reported killed by police officers who cracked down violently on the demonstrations in the initial days, despite the government’s attempts to meet the demands of the protesters.

The demonstrations eventually culminated in the deadly attack by soldiers on peaceful protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos on October 20, an attack that led to the death of a yet-to-be-determined number of protesters.

The incident escalated into a breakdown of law and order in Lagos and across the country with many incidents of looting and vandalism recorded.

Nigerian soldiers violently attacked peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020Nigerian soldiers violently attacked peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020

Mohammed described the Lekki incident as a ‘hoax massacre’ without bodies to prove anyone was killed, even though the Lagos State government has officially admitted two fatalities.

The minister said the massacre was manufactured by social media, and called contrary reports an attempt to instigate unrest in Nigeria.

For days, the Nigerian Army was mute on its involvement in the shooting, and called media reports fake news, until it later admitted that it was invited by the Lagos government, and that troops fired blanks in the air to disperse protesters.

Mohammed reiterated the Army’s position, noting that blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone.

“The purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the entire world that there was mass killing in Lekki, even when till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki toll gate,” he said.

The minister also slammed CNN’s report about the incident, calling it a poor piece of journalism that relied on unverified videos and testimonies.

He said the international media organisation should be sanctioned for the investigative report, but didn’t state how.

He also slammed the media and human rights organisations for downplaying casualties suffered by security agents and agencies last month.

According to the minister, 37 police officers and six soldiers were killed during the crisis, while 196 police officers were also injured.

He said 164 police vehicles were destroyed, and 134 police stations burnt, and noted that other security agencies lost infrastructure, equipment, and other valuables to attacks by hoodlums.

He also reported that eight medium security custodial centres were attacked in Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo, and Ebonyi, leading to the jailbreak of nearly 2,000 inmates.

The minister said the government was very satisfied with the role played by the security agencies, especially the military and the Police all through the #EndSARS demonstrations.

“The security agents were professional and measured in their response. Even when their lives were at stake, they exercised uncommon restraint.

“Their professionalism and measured response saved many lives and property,” he said.

Mohammed said anyone that has any evidence to prove a massacre happened in Lekki should present it to the Lagos State judicial panel of inquiry investigating the incident.