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CHECK: Did Lai Mohammed describe Nigeria as the world’s ‘safest’ country to live in?

THOUGH news reports published on Monday quoted the Information Minister Lai Mohammed, saying Nigeria is the “safest and freest country” to live in the world, there is no record showing he made this statement.

“Nigeria is safest country to live in the world – Lai Mohammed,” Daily Post’s headline read before replacing “safest” with “freest”.

“The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described Nigeria as the freest country to live in the world,” the online paper reported, stating that the comment was made while the minister received Jyrki Pulkkimen, the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria and his team.

A similar report was published by Pulse. “Despite the increasing insecurity situation in Nigeria, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has described Nigeria as the safest country to live in the world,” Pulse reported.

The Nation also credited the minister with this statement. But it has pulled down the publication, though the link is still on its social media platforms. While it has been liked 210 times and retweeted by 73 users on Twitter, on Facebook it gathered over 3,200 comments, was shared by over 2,800 users, and liked by over 1,800.

None of the reports provided a direct quote from Mohammed’s speech, and checks by The ICIR show that he did not in fact describe Nigeria as the safest and freest country in the world. At least, these descriptions were not contained in a press statement released yesterday by Segun Adeyemi, the special assistant to the president under the office of the minister of information and culture.

The ICIR also obtained a complete recording of the minister’s speech at the meeting and saw the only time he mentioned safety was with respect to the social media.

“If we want to stifle the media, we want to violate everybody’s human rights, we are not going to call the same stakeholders in human rights, media to a roundtable conference on how do we go about sanitising the social media; because as we speak today we will be meeting later in the month with leaders of the media, civil society, security and other stakeholders on how do we sanitise our social media and make our social media safe for all,” he said.

He also did not say Nigeria is the freest country but “one of the freest countries to live in the world”.

Joe Mutah, chief press secretary to the information minister, told The ICIR, the reports are a “practical example” of misrepresentation in the media.

He said the context of Mohammed’s comments was press freedom, not security.

“The minister said Nigeria has the freest environment to operate as journalists,” he said.

“We are not talking about security, we are talking about press freedom. It is a discussion about the government not going out of its way to gag the press. Let the country have a free press; isn’t that the expression we use?”

Meanwhile, Nigeria is neither one of the safest places to live nor one of the freest countries in the world for journalists. Rather, it qualifies more appropriately as one of the worst-performing.

The 2019 Global Peace Index, which measures societal safety, security, and conflict, ranks Nigeria 148th out of 163 countries. And, according to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, the country is ranked 120th out of a total of 180 countries.

 

Below is the information minister’s full speech:

Your Excellencies, it’s quite a pleasure to want to receive the Finland Ambassador to Nigeria… You will be wondering why do I have the entire gamut of my information and creative industry, for the simple reason that this platform is about innovation. It’s about the creative industry, it’s about information, and that is why I brought the CEOs of the various creative industry, information to witness this particular courtesy visit.

My understanding of the Freedom Online Coalition is that it is a coalition of a body of countries, like-minded, and whose objective is actually human rights, privacy, security, and trust. And as of today there about 31 members and only three so far from Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, and I think Tunisia. I don’t know what yardstick was used to describe Nigeria as not a like-minded country, I think {inaudible} explain to us.

When I look at the objectives of the FOC, I think you’ve come to preach to the converted already. When it comes to innovation, this administration, and I am glad that the ambassador has also confirmed that when it comes to innovation, Nigeria is probably the African hub for innovation. And this is not by accident, because we have a pool of very young, talented, and ambitious young people in Nigeria. And I think as recently as three months ago, in Dubai, a Nigerian came first in innovation.

We intend to push this because when you look at the creative industry in particular which is the fastest-growing part of the economy, which employs the second largest number of people after agriculture, you can see why innovation and technology is very important to this administration. And we have put together legislation and other incentives to encourage young men and women in innovative technology.

Now, I know that the ambassador said whatever is going to be tolerated, you know, offline should be tolerated online, and that’s why the issue of human rights has come. I think for us in Nigeria, respect for human rights is a cardinal principle of not just our constitution but day-to-day governance. And I am yet to see any country with the kind of population we have, with the kind of multi-values, multi-culture, multi-religion, that has at the same time striven to balance, you know, national security with freedom of the press and freedom of the media.

I make bold to say that this administration, in particular, has no intention and does not tamper with the freedom of speech or freedom of individuals. But more often than not, we do confuse activists and politicians, we confuse them with journalists. And this is the point we made everywhere we went, that there is a difference between journalists and activists. At the same time, every country in the world, the first preoccupation of that country is the preservation of the people. So, yes, once in a while, there might be need to draw that gap, let there be a balance between national security and the freedom of the press or of the individual. But I make bold to say that Nigeria is one of the freest countries to live in the world. 

I know you spoke about freedom and human rights. Yes, it is true that we especially in this ministry, we’ve watched with some trepidation the social media front, and we see how some people have tried to abuse the new technology to cause disaffection, especially pushing fake news and hate speech. In a country where you have many religions, many ethnicities, many ethnic groups, many values, the government cannot fold its arms and see some unguarded individuals trying to take advantage of the differences in values to cause disharmony; and this is why this ministry, in particular, decided that it is important to sanitise the social media scene.

Sanitisation does not necessarily mean legislation, and it does not mean by any imagination stifling of the press or the media, no. We are going to have a media as free as anywhere in the world, but we must have a responsibly free media and that is our goal. Hate speech, fake news, disinformation have done more to destabilise the globe than any plague in recent times. And examples abound within Nigeria and outside Nigeria. Outside Nigeria, the classic case is the Rwandan genocide, where over 800,000 lives were lost within a short period just to hate speech, false news, fake news, and disinformation. So our attempt to sanitise the social media is not at all an attempt to stifle the media. I want to make this very clear.

If we want to stifle the media, we want to violate everybody’s human rights, we are not going to call the same stakeholders in human rights, media to a roundtable conference on how do we go about sanitising the social media; because as we speak today we will be meeting later in the month with leaders of the media, civil society, security and other stakeholders on how do we sanitise our social media and make our social media safe for all. How do we ensure that people do not {inaudible} to cause disharmony in the country; so that is all that is about our social media regulation. It is not about stifling the media, it is not about violating anybody’s human rights. But it’s out own response to a responsible social media and we are not alone in this; I know that France, I know that the UK, I know that Pakistan, China, Japan all have one way or the other trying to regulate the social media, without necessarily tampering with the freedom of the individual or the media. 

And just like a parliamentarian said in France, whatever is not tolerated on the streets should not be tolerated online, which is the reverse of what the ambassador talked about human rights. So we are very concerned, very committed about sanitising the social media. Now, I said at the beginning that you’ve come out here to preach to the converted. Just before we came in, in our private meeting, he expressed his fears of exactly what the world is going through, disinformation, fake news, and hate speech. And I want to say here that, long before it became popular, this administration started fighting hate speech and fake news. We started in 2017, and we devoted an entire national conference on information to address the issue of hate speech because we saw it very early that it is probably the biggest threat the military of this country will face.

We’ve also, since 2018, launched the national campaign on fake news by going to various news organisations, media houses, and signing them on to join us in our fight against fake news. And interestingly enough, when I was discussing with the Ambassador for Innovation, he says another aspect which bothers the Freedom Online Coalition is the deliberate denial online about the existence of climate change, and I said that is strange to us here because we are the victims of climate change. We are the victims of climate change, not just because it affects our environment but it also affects our economy, it affects the peace and stability of the country, it affects social interaction.

Look at Lake Chad, some 50 years ago, it covered some 25,000 square km, and supported livelihood in seven countries. But today, the same Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent, and that means that all those about 50 major tribes that were dependent on the Lake Chad now have to look elsewhere for sustenance. And part of the conflicts we witness in Nigeria, with herdsmen-farmers clash, was directly also traceable to the dwindling water vapour in the Lake Chad, because it meant then that those pastoralists that depended on the Lake Chad to rear their cattle had to look elsewhere in the South and in the process there were this conflicts. So for us in Nigeria, climate change is real because it has affected our economy, it has affected our environment, it is affecting our politics and our stability; and we would join hands with the Freedom Online Coalition to ensure that those denialists on climate change that we tackle them robustly because we have seen, we have been victims of climate change and we know it is real. 

Of course, we have established the fact that our creative industry, especially the film and music industry, film, music, fashion, photography, and innovative technology are the fastest moving sectors of our economy. And today the film industry alone employs about one million people and contributes about 1.4 per cent of our GDP, but we look forward to next two, three years when another one and a half million people will be employed by the same sector and they will be able to contribute about 3.5 per cent to the GDP.

But the most important thing about our creative industry is its ability to employ more people. Like I said, after agriculture, it employs the largest number of people, and mostly the young. This is a great country for anybody to come and invest in the creative industry. In 2014, we had just about 23 cinema houses and they were about 51. Today, we have about 100 screens; but a population of 200 million people, we need a minimum of 1000 cinema houses and about 16,000 screens. So this is an area where we will be looking for investment and the investors will actually smile to the bank. 

Our music industry has also grown amazingly from $23 million revenue in 2014 and by 2021 we will be looking at recouping about $56 million in revenue. Our fashion industry is probably one of the most expansive in the world. That is another area we can look forward to collaboration from other countries.

So, once again, I welcome the two ambassadors. I pledge our preparedness to work with the Freedom Online Coalition and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in your fight against disinformation and in your fight against fake news and in your fight against hate speech. I thank you very much.

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