Internet Freedom : An Average Nigerian’s Case

I recently came across this article on my PC I wrote in 2014 about Internet Freedom in Nigeria. 3 years down-the-line and I realize the situation has not improved much. I’ll go ahead and share the post here and I’ll do a follow-up story to cover the updates of the last 3 years.

Internet freedom in countries around the world has declined sharply in the past year despite a push-back from activists that successfully blocked some governments’ repressive laws. According to the latest report from the Freedom House, a growing fear of social media being used to organize national protests has led many governments to pass laws restricting freedom of expression online.

Since May 2012, 24 countries have adopted some form of legislation restricting internet freedom. Bangladesh imposed a prison sentence of 14 years on a group of bloggers for writing posts criticizing Islam. At least 10 people were arrested in Bahrain for “insulting the king on Twitter,” an 18-year-old in Morocco was sentenced to 18 months in prison for “attacking the nation’s sacred values” over a Facebook post that allegedly ridiculed the king, and a woman in India was arrested for “liking” a friends Facebook status.

In Nigeria, former Minister of Education and arrowhead of the #BringBackOurGirls group, Ms. Obiageli Ezekwesili had her passport seized and was detained by the SSS in July after tweeting earlier on that she was heading to London to appear on the BBC Hardtalk programme. On July 26, 2012, Senate President, David Mark, called for a clampdown on the use of social media in Nigeria, while speaking at a media retreat. On April 25, 2013, Premium Times, reported that the Nigerian government had signed a $40million contract with Israel-based Elbit systems to monitor Internet communication in Nigeria. Provisions in Nigeria’s 2013 budget proposal seting aside $61.9 million for a “Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyzer System,” also confirm government intentions to begin internet monitoring and surveillance.

Over the past three years, Nigeria has been rated Partly Free in the annual Freedom on the Net report compared to fellow African countries like Kenya and South Africa which were both ranked Free in 2013. While blocking and filtering remain the preferred methods of censorship in many countries, governments are increasingly looking at who is saying what online, and finding ways to punish them.

Recent events in Nigeria have shown that ICT has constantly surfaced as a dynamic force in national communication affairs, leaving lasting imprints on the nation and her economic community. The January 2012 Occupy Nigeria movement, for instance started as a hashtag on Twitter that found its way offline in a matter of hours, and eventually became a massive nationwide protest that would last two weeks. The #BringBackOurGirls movement is another good example.

As a people, we should be concerned about Internet Freedom because the Internet serves as a powerful platform to bring information and resources to people who historically have been isolated, or their human rights repressed, so they, too, have the chance to become active, prosperous and engaged participants in the local and world community

It is important to note that pushback from activists has been successful in deterring some of the negative laws. Activists in 11 countries have successfully prevented laws restricting online freedom through a combination of pressure from advocates, lawyers, businesses, politicians and the international community, the report says. Activists were successfully able to overturn the Cybercrime Prevention Act in the Philippines, blocked a law in Kyrgyzstan and added a constitutional right to freedom of access to the internet in Mexico, though without specifics on how the right will be protected. It is clear that increases in activism globally could yield positive future developments.

This brief is borne out of the need to illuminate the nature of evolving threats in our rapidly changing global environment, and to identify areas of opportunity for positive change. Due to the worsening security situation in the north presently, the internet has become a target for blocking communications but it is possible that the policy makers do not fully comprehend the future implications of granting security operatives unchecked and unlawful powers of surveillance and access to private data. A balance therefore should be found between the duty to protect and the responsibility to ensure that fundamental human rights are upheld.

We, the Nigerian people stand for a free and open Internet. We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

  • Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.
  • Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.
  • Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.
  • Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.
  • Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

Nigerian policymakers should appreciate the intricate roles which ICT plays in political change at the grassroots, and how those technologies intersect with the array of other National policy objectives. Respect for the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association has the ability to enhance lives in ways we can’t even imagine, as long as we extend the same respect for these fundamental freedoms to the online world.

One of the goals of any democracy should be to ensure that any child, born anywhere in the world, has access to the global internet as an open platform to innovate, learn, organize, and express herself free from undue interference or censorship. The Nigerian government owes the citizenry the obligation to promote long-standing values of openness and human rights in a networked world.

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