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Internet Freedom: A peep into digital authoritarianism in Nigeria – by John Oluwafemi OLLA

An open internet is a powerful tool for everyone fighting for social change and injustice in Nigeria. The chance of accessing this as a right under democracy is becoming very slim for active citizens in Nigeria.

Nigeria is considered as one of the poorest countries in the world yet, the cost of getting the internet is very high for the citizens. Despite the high cost of internet subscription motivated by the need to control and reduce those with access, yet the government continued to monitor the internet.

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For the social change Fighters in Nigeria, it is becoming almost impossible to find their voice on the internet as this internet is becoming a storehouse where the government agencies are always on the watch. Also, the court has become a place that common citizens cannot go for justice but rather the only place where Nigerians can raise their voice is on the social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many others. On daily basis, Nigerians are losing their trust in the court and the only place where Nigerians are now raising their voice in unison with civil society leading the way is on the internet and social media platforms; this social media platform as proven to be successful in pressurizing and forcing the policymakers to change their malicious policy at all levels. Therefore, it is expedient that Nigeria needs to do more in trying to create an open and safe internet space for its citizens by reviewing and or establishing laws that will liberate the internet spaces and ensure privacy.

Presently there are a lot of things that are making it difficult for Nigeria to use the internet platforms as a means of raising their voice, thereby making it a close and an unsecured space for Nigerians to air their opinion.

The issues of close and privacy are issues that must be addressed in Nigeria if Nigeria will be considered as a truly democratic state among the comity of nations. Another area is the issue of data protection; there have been complaints in Nigeria that people’s data are not safe as government interfere by illegally accessing personal data of her citizens without any prior permission and consent of the owner. Also, news agencies in Nigeria have been put under checks and bound, through the use of Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is an agency established to regulate the activities of broadcasting agencies in Nigeria but has been turned to an instrument used by the government to fight against media freedom, justice and silence the voice of the people.

One of the issues that must be highlighted about open internet in Nigeria is the rising cost of internet subscription in Nigeria. In 2018 and 2019 the price of internet subscription was increased twice and this has caused a lot of Nigerians who are living below $11/2 to refrain from the use of the internet including those who get their daily income from internet-enabled activities. The increase has contributed to the perceived shrinking stance in civic spaces.

Another thing is the issue of legislators proposing laws that are anti-social media and open internet. It is no news that Nigerian senators had in the past came up with several laws that can discourage people from using social media and scare them away from raising their voice on the internet because of the fictitious punishments embedded in the laws. However, the social media and hate speech bills were rejected by Nigerians because of the clause that recommended death for those accused of promoting or perceived to have encouraged hate speech without any clear definition as to what the hate speeches are.

It is therefore expedient to know that Nigeria as a country is gradually sliding into a dictatorial state, where citizens are no longer allowed to raise their voice as internet and social media space are being constantly being spied on.

John Oluwafemi OLLA
Team Lead, Act Hub Africa
TW | IG: @twergywhite

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