Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has said social media is fuelling hate crimes and called for heads of social networks to take substantial action.

While addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Buhari said the world’s emerging digital culture was at risk of being corrupted.

  • “The world was shocked and startled by the massacre in New Zealand by a lone gunman taking the lives of 50 worshippers”, he said. “This and similar crimes which have been fuelled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.”

Placing the burden of responsibility on tech companies and social networks, he added that it was important for them to counteract the thriving of such behaviour on their platforms.

  • “They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.”

Hate speech in Nigeria

The sustained rise of misinformation and incendiary posts on social media has been a topic of discussion for many years but intensified after ‘false news’ reached exponential levels during Nigeria’s elections in 2015 and continued four years on.

  • WhatsApp, Facebook and online forum Nairaland have been the usual suspects; Twitter has also been complicit in matters of dissemination of ‘fake news’.
  • In the run-up to the 2019 elections, the president himself was a victim of fake news after separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) spread allegations that Buhari had become deathly ill during his medical leave in the UK and had been replaced by a body double from Sudan called Jubril.

Buhari also spoke about the ongoing legal tango involving an Irish firm and the Nigerian government, over an arbitration judgement to the tune of $ 9billion – equivalent to a fifth of the country’s reserves – for a gas plant deal which collapsed in 2013.

  • The former general claimed his government was “facing the challenges of corruption head-on” and “giving notice to international criminal groups by the vigorous prosecution of the P&ID scam attempting to cheat Nigeria of billions of dollars.”

Buhari was the fifth in a line of speakers on the first day of proceedings of the UN General Assembly Debates – after Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, US’s Donald Trump, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan.

Bottom line: Buhari’s speech, the second by an African head of state at this year’s UN General Assembly Debates, was heavy on external cooperation but light on Nigeria’s many internal conflicts and challenges.

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