SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, DURING A STAKEHOLDERS’ MEETING WITH MEMBERS OF THE BROADCASTING ORGANIZATIONS OF NIGERIA (BON) IN ABUJA ON FRIDAY, NOV. 27TH 2020
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank you most sincerely for honouring our invitation. I have called this meeting so I can brief you – and also get your feedback – on recent developments across the country. It is the start of our engagements with stakeholders on the same topic.
2. As you are all aware, last month witnessed an EndSARS protest by the youth, who were calling for an end to police brutality and the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest started peacefully but soon degenerated into violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums.
3. What were the EndSARS protesters asking for? Their five demands were:
i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
4. How did the Federal Government Respond?
On 11 Oct: The Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
On Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating:
”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.
On Oct. 13th: The IGP ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).
On the same day, Oct. 13th: The presidential panel on the reform of SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the EndSARS protesters.
On Oct. 15th: The National Economic Council (NEC) directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months to complete its assignment.
Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the States. This will ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3 persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force.
5. As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, the Federal Government was not only responsive but was also very responsible in its handling of the demands of the EndSARS protesters. We met the five demands. Some, like disbandment of SARS, were met immediately while we kickstarted the process of meeting others that cannot be done with an immediate pronouncement. Despite this, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.
6. The violence that resulted from the hijack of the EndSARS protest was catalyzed by fake news and disinformation, which spread like wildfire on social media. And this did not come to us as a surprise.
As far back as 2017, we had been raising the alarm on the risks posed by fake news and disinformation. That year, we devoted the National Council on Information to the issue of fake news, hate speech and disinformation. The following year, in 2018, we launched the national campaign against fake news and disinformation, partnering with a number of print and electronic media organizations
7. Ladies and gentlemen, social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS violence. Then, pictures of persons, including some celebrities and even non-Nigerians, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims
8. This brings me to the issue of social media regulation. You must have heard about the hoopla this issue has generated in the media.
Well, I want to confirm that we will definitely act to ensure a responsible use of social media. You may call that regulation.
9. But that is not the same as stifling press freedom or free speech. No. Fake news and disinformation are not the same as free
speech. This government has no plan to stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down the internet. Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear.
But we cannot give the same assurance for those who weaponize social media. By the way, the issue of regulating social media content is generating debate around the world, so Nigeria is not an exception.
10. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s no longer news that three broadcast stations were sanctioned in the aftermath of EndSARS. Some analysts have attempted to muddy the waters by alleging an attempt to stifle the media. This is sheer red herring.
11. The simple truth is that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposed fines on the three broadcast stations for using
unverified and dangerous information from social media. Two of the stations have paid in full, while one has paid in part.
12. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to broadcast stations to avoid using unverified information from social media, as this is
fraught with danger. Despite the temptation, the stations must adhere strictly to the gate-keeping tradition instead of rushing to use materials that are not authenticated.
13. Ladies and gentlemen, the use of unverified videos, and the non-adherence to the basic tenets of journalism have combined to land an international broadcaster, CNN, in trouble. This station has been caught in the web of fake news and disinformation, after it relied heavily on videos it took from social media for a supposed exclusive investigation on the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th Tne station was also found to be inconsistent. After tweeting, without a shred of evidence, from its verified handle on Oct. 23rd that soldiers killed 38 peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th, the same station now said only one person was killed – after a month of its investigation. What an embarrassment!
14. It is baffling that an organization like CNN will rely on unauthenticated videos to carry out an investigation. More worrisome is that an international broadcaster like CNN will switch casualty figures so casually without a credible source. This is why we have written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to probe its investigation. We have received an acknowledgement of our letter, saying the letter has been referred to CNN’s Editorial Team.
We await the outcome of their probe, but that’s without prejudice to whatever we may decide to do as a government. We will not sit by and allow any news organization, local or foreign, to set Nigeria on fire with irresponsible and unprofessional reporting. CNN did not have a reporter or cameraman at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question, yet it emphatically reported a hoax story. Conversely, the BBC that had a reporter and an editor on ground reported that soldiers shot into the air, not at protesters. I will rather believe the person on the ground than the one who is thousands of kilometres away.
15. Since we sent our letter, CNN has been grasping at straws in desperation, to justify its inaccurate and unbalanced investigation.
But in the process, it is sinking more and more into professional infamy. Yesterday, Nov. 26th that is, in the clearest indication yet of the its confusion over the Lekki Toll Gate incident, CNN tried to clarify its tweet of Oct. 23rd by saying it never attributed the death toll of 38 to Amnesty International and that the tweet also did not make it clear that the death toll was for protests across the country. Commentators on the tweet tried to redirect CNN to the issue: which is its tweet of Oct. 23rd in which it said ”At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday (Oct. 20th) when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters.” This is very unambiguous and CNN is exhibiting panic by seeking to clarify its tweet some 35 days later!
Instead of engaging in such panic, CNN should come clean by admitting that it goofed badly on the Lekki Toll Gate incident.
16. But the big lesson to draw from CNN’s faux pas is that it magnifies the failure or inadequacy of our own broadcast organizations. In the wake of our spat with CNN, people are asking: Why didn’t our own broadcast stations take the lead in reporting the incident at Lekki? Why didn’t they take the lead in presenting an authentic narrative? Why must we allow the foreign broadcast stations, some of which didn’t even have correspondents on ground, to dictate the pace, thus misleading the world? These are questions begging for answers and I think for BON, this must form part of their review
of the coverage of the whole crisis.
17. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I want to speak on the role of the security agencies during and after the EndSARS protest. The
Federal Government commends the security agencies for their professionalism and their restraint, which helped to save many lives.
Even in the face of attacks and provocation, the security agencies, in particular the police and soldiers, acted within their rules of
engagement. The reporting of the EndSARS protest has been skewed against the security agencies. While most reports have become fixated on the so-called massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, only a few have highlighted the attacks and killings of security agents, as well as the destruction of public and private property. This is selective perception and it is condemnable.
18. For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured;
164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.
The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and dastardly.
Yet, human rights organizations and the media have not given this the attention it deserved. Rather, they have remained fixated on the
so-called massacre. It seems human rights do not matter for men and women in uniform. This is unfortunate and must be corrected. Please note that the violence also left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.
19. Ladies and gentlemen, as you are aware, and in accordance with the directive of Mr. President, Ministers have since gone back to their respective states to meet with stakeholders in the wake of the protest and its aftermath. A Federal Government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders. There is no doubt that the outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the Federal Government..
20 I thank you all for your kind attention, and will now take your questions