Rejoinder: Why Internet censorship is now necessary in Nigeria

Rejoinder: Why Internet censorship is now necessary in Nigeria

Rejoinder: Why Internet censorship is now necessary in Nigeria

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By Adeboye Adegoke

I read the Technology Times article with the above heading by Success Kafoi and doubted if this was actually from a journalist. Recent happenings in global politics have taught us to never assume uniformity of thought processes. From Brexit to Donald Trump winning the American Presidential election, we can say for sure that humans’ reasoning are never to be boxed into what in our view is logical.

Without a doubt, Success demonstrated lack of understanding of the issues and reasoned at most, at the peripheral level about an issue that is currently generating global attention and which is a major topical issue at the United Nations Internet Governance forum.

Only in June this year, The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning countries that intentionally disrupt citizens’ Internet access. The resolution builds on the UN’s previous statements on digital rights, reaffirming the organization’s stance that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.”

Understanding the history of the Internet itself does show that it is a tool of technology meant to advance the prospects of man. Like any other means of technology, it is capable of being misused. While it has been widely agreed that the Internet as a social infrastructure must be people-oriented and deregulated, the whims of what becomes its market is best left to the market forces. 

The resolution later calls on governments to “promote digital literacy and to facilitate access to information on the Internet,” as it can be “an important tool in facilitating the promotion of the right to education.” Internet shutdowns and censorship are children of the same mother and fall within this resolution.

Success unbelievably used the word “censor” in an uninformed way, suggesting that it is a needed panacea to the bad contents which are found on the Internet. It must be said however that when engaging semantics, it is only fair for effective communication, to equally engage the context with which they must be used.

Understanding the history of the Internet itself does show that it is a tool of technology meant to advance the prospects of man. Like any other means of technology, it is capable of being misused. While it has been widely agreed that the Internet as a social infrastructure must be people-oriented and deregulated, the whims of what becomes its market is best left to the market forces.

Success suggested in his article that some people have used the Internet as a medium for racism, sexism, pornography, and basically other unwholesome things but he failed to admit that these group of people defined were exposed to the same kind of content as those who are making positive use of the Internet.

Innovations are making the world better, solutions are helping the electoral processes in many countries including Nigeria, banking applications and even online education material. What’s to be said here is that it is lame to call for censorship of the Internet because of how certain people choose to use the Internet or in the guise of protecting any institution and I use the word guise with emphasis because even Success himself alluded in his article that censorship has been, in the guise of protecting three basic social institutions: the family, the church, and the Nigerian governments.

Being our area of work at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, one thing we know for a fact and from participation in multi-stakeholder approaches from around the world where these issues are discussed, and studying happenings in different countries of the world, is that Internet censorship is never a solution to addressing the ills that Success pointed out.

Those ills preceded the Internet, so censoring the Internet can never be the way to solve them. What we need to acknowledge is the power of the Internet to amplify the voices of many things; good or bad, Success’ thoughts and my rejoinder both deserves to be read/heard. What Success has suggested is for the voice of either of us to be eternally suppressed which is very dangerous even to his own profession.

Censorship has implications not just for human rights but also for the economy. It will stifle growth and deny many, access to the prospects of the digital space. In China, which Success so proudly cited as an example for Internet Censorship which Nigeria should follow, it has been proven according to a report by Margaux Schreurs who lives in Beijing and works as Managing Editor at True Run Media in Beijing, Internet censorship make doing business in China hard, and led to many companies exiting China including Google in 2011.

Also, as Sasha Majette, Staff Writer at Impactnews.com pointed out in her article on Internet Censorship, “Free speech is not something that is readily available in many of the governments that censor the web. Many of us take our right to free speech for granted, in many parts of the world you could be killed for even making a blog post such as the case of blogger Sattar Beheshiti who was taken into custody for questioning in Tehran and mysteriously died in police custody during an interrogation.”

We are lucky to have access to two sides of the story through the Internet. Just consider how things could have been during the elections which could have had a drastically different outcome if the Internet was censored. If the media on the Internet was completely one sided, there would be no point for an election at all.

Comparing the Internet to other forms of mass media including television and radio as Success did is rather unfortunate and as was highlighted in DiploFoundation online resources on Internet governance. The Internet is a much broader term than television or radio. “Aside from the similarity a television has with a computer screen, there are major structural differences between them. The television or a radio represents a one to many medium for broadcasting to viewers while the Internet facilitates several different types of communication (One-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many).

The Computer-Television analogy has been used over time by those who want stricter control over the Internet. The US Government had at a time wanted to use this analogy in the seminal Reno vs ACLU case as prompted by the Communication Decency Act as passed by the U.S. Congress. However, the court refused to accept this analogy!”

I think Success did not err to have identified that the Internet throws up a deluge of issues requiring debate, where he erred was his attempt to find a one-fits-all approach to tackling the issues. What he has proposed is beyond throwing the baby with the bath water but seeks to add the mother and an entire generation to the bath water. The issues are more complex than that. It is exactly why the Internet Governance discussion is a multi-stakeholder approach so that such issues are widely discussed and policy formulation reflects multi-stakeholder inputs.

In managing the prospects of the Internet, it is necessary to also guard against its excesses. Reason why advocacy is being mounted through a multi-stakeholder ‎approach to ensure that we do not only achieve short-term goals of getting government institutions to ensure rights-respecting policies but also to properly document these efforts in lasting legislative policies that will gradually regulate the cyber-environment.

There is currently a legislative document before the National Assembly in Nigeria that has taken care of virtually all the issues Success ignorantly pursued in his article. The bill is an ancillary document to the Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution which also includes, in its S.45(1) (b) an understanding of how rights are not per se absolute if they infringe on the rights of others.
This rejoinder will definitely be incomplete without speaking to context. Nigeria is a very interesting country when you talk about power and control generally. Nigeria’s long spell of military rule has made abuse a common denominator in Governance in over 16 years of our democratic experience. When you propose policies that seek to encourage high-handedness when we should be having conversations around making Government more answerable and open to citizens, then we may be either consciously or unconsciously reversing the gains of Democracy by promoting military-style information censoring.

I imagine Success’ article at the disposal of Nigerian policy makers and using same to inform policy decision innocently or otherwise, it would require several years of spirited advocacy efforts to undo or correct such ill-informed policy and that’s why it’s important to do this rejoinder. I invite Success and others who are interested in this topic to join actors from all over Africa at the Internet Freedom Forum in Lagos, Nigeria in April 2017 for a further debate on this issue and similar topics around Internet policies.

* Adeboye is Program Manager (ICT Policy) at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria and tweets from @adeboyeBGO

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