MINISTER of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has blamed fake news, social media and unbalanced coverage of the recent #EndSARS protests for the sagging morale among security agents and worsening insecurity in the country.
According to him, the mainstream media abandoned reportage of the protests to the social media, which in their sensationalism twisted the reports causing the country avoidable trouble.
Lamenting that the killings and brutality meted to security agents during the protests were poorly reported, he said: “Now, this is hunting all of us. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have succeeded in scaring policemen off their beats. Today, many of them are even afraid to wear their uniform. And the result has not been pleasant, in terms of security of life and property.”
Alhaji Mohammed, spoke yesterday in Lagos at a meeting with editors.
The meeting is part of engagements with stakeholders in the wake of the #EndSARS crisis to review what transpired during the protest, the subsequent crisis, and draw necessary lessons with a view to forestalling a recurrence given the violence that followed the hijack of the peaceful protest.
Noting that the #EndSARS protest was aimed at protesting police brutality and, consequently, to demand the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS among others, the ministers decried the hijack of the protests.
According to him, as the government met the initial five demands of the protesters and taken other measures to improve the Police salary and wages, the protesters continued the protests and enlarged their demands.
Listing the various measures the government took to meet the demands of the protesters, he said: “Despite meeting the five demands, the protesters continued with their protests while their demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.”
How fake news worsened crisis
He continued: “The issue of how fake news and disinformation aggravated the EndSARS crisis has dominated our previous meetings with various stakeholders. We have no doubt that fake news and disinformation fuelled the crisis. But we are also not surprised. This is because since 2017, we have been raising the alarm about the dangers of social media abuse. 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.
Fears over abuse of social media
“Now, our fears about the abuse of social media, and specifically the dangers posed by fake news and disinformation, have come to pass.
“During the protest and the subsequent violence, fake news and disinformation were the order of the day. Social media was used for mobilization, and it was also used to guide arsonists and looters to properties, both public and private, which were targeted for attack.
Celebrities who were listed as killed at Lekki quickly dispelled the report of their deaths. Discerning Nigerians exposed the fact that pictures of some non-Nigerians were used to justify the hoax massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.
“This development has strengthened our resolve to work with stakeholders to stop the abuse of social media. It has also rekindled the debate on the need to regulate social media content, a debate that is not limited to Nigeria. Former US President Barack Obama has said
the internet and social media have helped to create the ‘’single biggest threat’’ to democracy. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for more regulation of social media content. Other giant tech companies seem to agree. On our part, we will not sit down and allow a
reckless use of social media to aggravate our fault lines and throw the country into turmoil. But in curbing the excesses of social media, rest assured, gentlemen, that we will neither shut down the internet nor stifle press freedom or free speech, as some have insinuated. We also acknowledge that social media is here to stay.
How mainstream media covered #EndSARS
“There is another issue that I will like to discuss with you today. It concerns how your newspapers reported the last EndSARS crisis, especially the attack on security agents. In the first instance, it seems you unfortunately fell for the hoax that there was a massacre at Lekki Toll Gate.
“Almost all papers ran screaming headlines of massacre or killings at the toll gate the day after the October 20th incident there, when soldiers fired blank ammunition into the air to disperse protesters. Did you also fall for social media manipulation of the events that transpired that evening? No group was better placed than you to lead the narrative of what happened that night, but it seems you ceded that authority to social media, which has no time for the rigours of gate-keeping or fact checking. I hope in reviewing your coverage of the whole crisis, you will rectify that anomaly.
Poor attention on killing of security agents
“Still on the coverage, less attention was paid to the barbaric and gruesome murder of security agents by hoodlums during the crisis. While everyone was fixated on the fake massacre at Lekki Toll Gate, few paid attention to the way and manner policemen and soldiers were killed. In particular, policemen were hacked down in the most gruesome manner that calls into question the sanity of their killers.
“Yet, these security agents were treated as sub-humans. Human rights organizations all but ignored the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed, some of them dismembered and cannibalized. The media report of the killings was perfunctory, at best.
In addition to the killing of security agents, eight medium security custodial centres in six states (Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi) were attacked, with 1,957 inmates, most of them dangerous criminals, set free. Add that to the fact that over 100 AK-47 rifles were stolen by hoodlums as they burnt police station after police station, and you will understand the gravity of the situation. The spectre of hoodlums, armed with AK-47, roaming the streets and our roads, will send jitters down the spine.
“Now, this is hunting all of us. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have succeeded in scaring policemen off their beats. Today, many of them are even afraid to wear their uniform. And the result has not been pleasant, in terms of security of life and property. We all owe it a duty to empathize with and appreciate our security agents, and should resist the temptation to tar all of them with the same brush.
“No life is more important than the other, and respect for human rights should not be selective. I want to commend the state governments that have taken bold steps to shore up the morale of the police. While at it, I want to remind all of us of the saying that a society that makes war against its police had better learnt to make friends with its criminals.
6 soldiers, 37 policemen killed
“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.
“On our part, as a government, we have started a review of the whole EndSARS crisis. 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. This is in addition to what we are doing in meeting
the media stakeholders. A Federal Government delegation has also visited the various zones to consult with stakeholders. The outcome of these consultations will feed into an overall review of the whole crisis by the Federal Government.”