The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, doesn’t shy away from a fight. And as the mouthpiece of the Buhari administration, there’s an abundance of battles to always keep him engaged. His job is to assure everyone that the country is running smoothly even when the inflation rate is skyrocketing, and insecurity is taking more dangerous dimensions.
On May 17th 2022, the minister called for a meeting with Facebook. You may remember the app as Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild. Mohammed had one thing on his agenda for this meeting: the online activity of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Quick Take: What’s IPOB?
IPOB is a pressure group fighting for the separation of the South-East region from the rest of Nigeria. The government declared the group a terrorist organisation in 2017, shortly after IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, jumped bail and escaped abroad while facing trial for treasonable felony. Nigeria re-arrested him in 2021 and he’s back in the country facing a prolonged trial.
The Nigerian government has blamed IPOB for the escalation of violent acts that have recently plagued the South-East region. The group has used social media to coordinate its messaging with influential supporters abroad egging those in Nigeria on to commit criminal acts in order to pressure the government.
The BBC recently published an investigation that revealed IPOB supporters abroad are using Facebook particularly to spread hate speech and disinformation. They routinely use the app to spread broadcasts preaching violence against the targets of their conspiracy theories. They also sometimes switch into local languages to avoid moderation from social media platforms like Facebook.
ALSO READ: How Are Nigerians Dealing With NIN-SIM Ban?
Rewind: Twitter ban
The Nigerian government banned Twitter in June 2021, days after the app deleted a careless tweet by President Buhari. To throw the scent off the real reason for the ban, the government claimed it was a measure to safeguard Nigeria’s national security. Apparently, one of the government’s security concerns included Twitter’s refusal to censor Nnamdi Kanu’s account despite his posts instigating violence against Nigerian security officers in the South-East before his arrest. That justification is now resurfacing and could also be used to whip Facebook.
Lai Mohammed’s tango with Facebook
At the May 17th 2022 meeting, Lai Mohammed complained that Facebook isn’t taking the Nigerian government seriously enough. The government has filed numerous reports against IPOB accounts, but he said Facebook aired these reports. The minister believes Facebook’s tactics against IPOB’s spread of hate speech are “totally ineffective”. Essentially, he gave Facebook an F9.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Lai Mohammed warned that the government will continue to watch Facebook to ensure compliance with the demands made to censor IPOB and other bad-faith actors in Nigeria. The minister said all he wants is the responsible use of social media in the country. He also accused critics of always misinterpreting his campaign as an attempt to suppress free speech.
The Twitter ban was partly an attempt to strike fear into the hearts of media platforms operating in Nigeria. If Lai Mohammed’s warnings are to be taken seriously, the breakfast is about to move onto Facebook’s table.