The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has come under severe attack by Nigerians for saying he doesn’t know about the existence of hate speech bill in the National Assembly.
The minister had a few months ago announced plans by the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to regulate social media, vowing that no amount of criticism will stop the government from sanitising the social media.
The minister said this during an interview on DW’s Conflict Zone which was posted on Friday.
A bill known as ‘The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation’, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Musa, which seeks stiff penalties including prison terms for misuse of social media, has been criticised by both local and international rights groups.
Journalist, Tim Sebastian, had asked Mohammed why the government was seeking to stifle free speech through such draconian laws.
In his response, Mohammed said,“ Who is the author of that bill? I am not even aware of that bill . I am not even aware of it.”
When he was reminded that he was the minister of information and ought to be aware of happenings in the country, Mohammed said, “There is no such bill in the House. I can say that categorically and authoritatively. There is no such bill before the House.”
When asked if the Buhari government would support the ‘Hate Speech Bill’, the minister said, “when we get to the bridge, we will cross it.”
However, Mohammed’s comment was met by harsh criticisms from Nigerians on social media.
Below are the reactions:
@ayemojubar tweeted, “Lai Mohammed, as old as you are, as old as you are, you will never change.”
@William_Ukpe also tweeted, “ The reason Lai Mohammed denied that bill is because they know the bill is a shameless bill made for shameless men with fragile egos. They can threaten Nigerians with that bill. But foreign air brings clarity, so baba deny am.”
In a bid to puncture Mohammed’s claim, @Ayoolafelix posted a video showing the minister supporting social media regulation at a press conference a few months ago.
In the video, Mohammed said,“ Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I welcome a robust debate on this issue. Criticisms in certain quarters will not stop us from going ahead to sanitise social media.
“It is the right thing to do in the circumstances we find ourselves and we are not alone in doing this . Countries around the world are as concerned as we are and they are doing something about social media. The list is long.”