The Minister for information and culture Alh. Lai Mohammed held media parley with online Publishers in Lagos, where he carpeted CNN, an international broadcasting medium for their unauthenticated reportage of EndSARS protest in Nigeria. He maintained that” CNN has itself to blame for relying on unauthenticated videos, which it took from social media. Now, CNN is seeking to save face by trying to clarify its report, which was not only inaccurate but failed the simple test of balance and fairness”
President Mohammed Buhari led government image maker quickly added that Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear. But those who abuse it are right to be worried.
Read the full text below:
SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN LAGOS ON
TUESDAY, 1ST DEC, 2020
Gentlemen of the press, good morning. Thank you for always honouring our invitation. I have called this meeting so I can brief you on recent developments across the country, especially in the wake of the EndSARS protest.
2. As you are all aware, the month of October witnessed the 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, which started peacefully, later 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. What was the Federal Government’s Response?
Let me take you through a chronology of the response by the Federal Government:
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 NigeriaPolice Force.
5. Any fair analyst will realize that 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. Despite that, 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. We have no scintilla of doubt that 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, considering the fact that since 2017, we have been raising the alarm about the dangers of social media abuse. Remember, gentlemen, that in 2017, we dedicated that year’s
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. Gentlemen, social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private, during the EndSARS violence. Pictures of celebrities and even non-Nigerians who were supposedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate quickly made the rounds on social media, only for those celebrities to say they are alive, and for discerning Nigerians to disprove many of those listed as killed at Lekki Toll Gate
8. We remain concerned about the abuse of social media, and we continue to look for ways to ensure a responsible use of the platform.Once again, we solicit your support in our effort to fight this menace. As Online Publishers, who rely heavily on the new media, you will also be doing yourselves a great favour by helping to weed out those who are abusing it. If things get to a level where people can no longer trust anything published online, no one stands to lose more than media practitioners. That’s why we continue to seek your support on this issue.
9. Talking about social media abuse, on Monday, an online publisher quoted me as saying Nigeria is at the mercy of Boko Haram. This is sheer fabrication and an abuse of platform. While in Makurdi, Benu State, on an official visit, I was asked by journalists to comment on the killing of farmers in Borno State over the weekend. I said terrorism is a global problem that requires the collaborative efforts among nations to combat. I said Nigeria needs the support of global partners, especially in the area of acquisition of effective platforms to deal with the terrorists. I recalled that some of the platforms ordered and paid for by Nigeria have yet to be supplied till date,thus weakening the war on terror. How these statements translate to Nigeria being at the mercy of Boko Haram is baffling, and could only have come from warped minds who are more interested in attracting traffic to their websites than upholding the truth. Is anyone still in doubt that something urgent needs to be done to rein in the abuse of social media? Call it regulation or whatever, we have to do something most urgently.
10. But, as I have always said, checking the abuse of social media is not synonymous with stifling press freedom or free speech. Fake news and disinformation are not the same as free speech. For the umpteenth time, I want to say that this government has no plan to stifle free speech, neither do we have any intention of shutting down the internet as some have claimed. Social media has come to stay, and those who use it responsibly have nothing to fear. But those who abuse it are right to be worried.
11. On the killing of farmers in Borno, I want to say it is an act of cowardice and savagery by a group of deranged terrorists, and it does not reflect the progress being made by the military against Boko Haram. Going after soft targets is an act of weakness and desperation by the terrorists, who have suffered huge setbacks in the hands of the military in recent times. The modus operandi of a losing terror group is to go after soft targets in order to stay relevant. It’s not only Boko Haram that does that. In 2019, Al-Shabab attacked DusitD2 Complex in Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 20. Similarly, the Peshawar school massacre of 16 December 2014 in Pakistan, carried out by six gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, left about 150 people dead, most of them students. The truth is that Boko Haram is badly degraded and can only carry out cowardly attacks like the one against defenceless farmers over the weekend. We urge Nigerians not to lose hope in the capability and commitment of the military to rout the terrorists. Rather, we should continue to support the men and women in uniform, who are fighting the terrorists with grit and determination.
12. Still talking about fake news and disinformation, the recent EndSARS protest and the aftermath present a rare opportunity to see how these twin evils could aggravate issues. For example, the knee-jerk reactions of some countries were informed by fake news and disinformation, and varying figures of those purportedly killed in the hoax massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate are being bandied around. For example, Parliamentarians in Britain put the figure of those killed at 10, CNN first reported 38 and then lowered the number to 1. And DJ Switch’s numbers cascaded from 78 dead to 15 to 7!
13. In particular, it is most disheartening that Parliamentarians in a country with a history of upholding the finest ideals of democracy will act in such an uninformed manner on an issue such as EndSARS. The quality of the debate at the British Parliament on EndSARS was under par. Fake accusations based on fake news and disinformation were levelled against the Federal Government by poorly-informed participants at the debate. One MP even accused former Nigerian leader Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), who served this country to the best of his ability, of stealing half of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Sheer Ignorance! The flippant MP, who unfortunately chairs the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons, did a great disservice to himself, the Committee he chairs and the entire Parliament by allowing himself to be misled by fake news exponents.Fittingly, the British Government has distanced itself from him.
14. Even an international broadcaster like CNN was misled by fake news and disinformation. But CNN has itself to blame for relying on unauthenticated videos, which it took from social media. Now, CNN is seeking to save face by trying to clarify its report, which was not only inaccurate but failed the simple test of balance and fairness.
The attempt to walk back its earlier report has justifiably attracted the anger of Nigerians. As you all know, the Federal Government has written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to probe its so-called investigative report on the Lekki Toll Gate incident. 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 CNN has egg on its face for airing an”exclusive investigation” that is hinged on nothing but fake news.
15. Finally, 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 killing of security agents, as well as the destruction of public and private property. I urge you to help in correcting this unfair reporting.
16. 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.
In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted. The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and savage. Yet,human rights organizations and the media have not given this theattention it deserves. Rather, they have remained fixated on the so-called massacre. It seems the men and women in uniform are not entitled to the protection of their own human rights. This is unfortunate and must be corrected.
17. Gentlemen, as you are aware, and in accordance with thedirective 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..
18 I thank you all for your kind attention