Nigeria Mulls Social Media Rules as #EndSARS Protests Go Online

Nigerians are sharing art and music on the internet to circumvent a clampdown on protests against police brutality that rocked the country last month, prompting the government to consider restricting the use of social media.

Music, comedy, visual arts and even poetry are being used by young people in Africa’s most populous nation to voice their frustration with the security forces and the government’s handling of the protests. The rallies unified Nigerians across ethnic and political affiliations and were some of the largest since the end of military rule in 1999.

The first demonstrations began on Oct. 5, after a video of the alleged killing of a civilian by the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, went viral. Five days later, security forces used live ammunition to disperse a crowd in the Lekki district in the commercial capital, Lagos, during a 24-hour curfew. The army and the government insist that no one died in the shooting. Amnesty International said that at least 10 people were killed.

While the police unit has since been disbanded, the hashtag #EndSARS continues to be used in the protesters’ Twitter campaign.

Among the musicians who have released songs to criticize the police are Burna Boy, Banky W and Falz -- the latter having shot to prominence with a Nigerian version of U.S. rapper Childish Gambino’s song ‘This Is America.’ Paintings and other forms of art depicting the Lekki shooting are circulating widely on social media, and several comedians have published videos commenting on the issue.

The surge of online activism appears to have taken the government by surprise. Minister of Information Lai Mohammed said earlier this month that Nigeria needs technology and resources to “dominate our social media space,” upholding China as an example of a country where the use of social media is well regulated. He’s now pushing for the passage of a bill that includes strict penalties against what he calls “fake news.”

The proposal could mark an escalation of government attempts to silence its critics and enable authorities to arbitrarily shut down the internet, Amnesty International said Nov. 8.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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