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Nigeria’s alleged plans to block internet access during elections is illegal

2 February 2019

On Thursday, the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike alleged that Nigeria’s federal government, using the National Security Adviser (NSA) had instructed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to work with internet service providers to shutdown internet access during the elections. The presidential (s)election is just two weeks away.

Wike claimed: “NSA has met with INEC to ensure that internet service provider’s shutdown the internet, so that foreign bodies won’t see what’s happening in the country during the elections. They will jam all the frequencies and internet services to stop real time communication during the elections. This plot to rig the forthcoming election is a recipe for violence. They will not succeed in whatever they are planning. The world will be informed about their criminal activities.”

A spokesman for the NSA denied the claim, saying: “The office wishes to advise the general public to disregard the allegation, which is a disinformation”. But despite the denial, some of President Muhammadu Buhari’s are already trying to provide intellectual justification for such an act, which suggests there may be some truth in Wike’s claims.

Actually, freedom of expression on any medium is a constitutional right. Chapter 4, Section 39(1) of the Nigerian Constitution states: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” There are conditions where such a right can be interfered with. These are in 39(3): “Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

“(a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or

(b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.”

The spread of allegedly false information just doesn’t fit in here. In essence, no government has the right to restrict free speech via the internet just because some people may want to spread “fake news” in the form of “fake results”. This sort of censorship is not, as the Constitution says, “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.

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