Stakeholders at a one-day roundtable talk on digital rights and engagement have called on government agencies to fully embrace digital tools in their engagement with the public.
The roundtable, themed “Improving Government’s Approach to Digital Engagement & Rights”, held on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at the New State House Auditorium, Abuja. The event was a product of a partnership between Paradigm Initiative and the Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE).
In his opening keynote, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr. ‘Gbenga Sesan emphasised the need for government agencies to fully adopt digital engagement in their communication, while also recognising the need to ensure the protection of citizens’ rights.
“There will always be tension between protecting digital rights and security concerns. However, information sharing can help reduce this tension. By engaging citizens online and providing reliable information, government can reduce the mutual suspicion and tension between her and the citizens,” Mr. Sesan said.
Mr. Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on Digital and New Media, and Head of PODE, introduced the framework of a Social Media Policy his office was working on.
“Government has started to ask itself questions on effective ways of sharing information with the public and the media. For example, “Why should we continue to share paper statement when we can push out the message in a video format? As a government, we need to be open. We need to take information to people where they are and how they want it. This kind of thinking is what is behind the design of this policy and we are consulting stakeholders within government to ensure its effectiveness,” Ogunlesi explained.
“The planned Social Media Policy is built on four pillars – Policy, Engagement, Education and Response (PEER). The Social Media Policy will require all government agencies to maintain social media accounts,” he added.
An official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Tony Orilade lamented the spate of misinformation and fake news on social media, which further erodes people’s confidence in law enforcement agencies. The duo of Mr. Abayomi Shogunle, Head, Police Complaints Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU) and Brigadier General SK Usman, Director, Army Public Relations, echoed Mr. Orilade’s views and called on civil society to actively campaign against misinformation and misrepresentation by
some users of digital platform.
Shogunle said, “Rights activists should condemn misinformation with the same vigour they employ in condemning rights abuses.”
While responding to this call, Edet Ojo of Media Rights Action emphasised the need for government agencies to be transparent and forward with information in their bid to neutralise the impact of misinformation about their work. He cautioned agencies
against “arresting citizens because they feel their reputation is maligned” as this would only further alienate them from the public.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Representative, Mr. Nwoko Paulinus, enjoined security agencies to uphold the law and protect the rights of citizens, and not curtail them. Infringing citizens’ rights, he says, “gives the government a bad reputation and hurts its ability to do its job.”
Participants at the roundtable all agreed on the need for greater collaboration and engagement between the Government and law enforcement agencies, Civil Society Organisations, Media and the public.
The Roundtable talk was attended by Mrs Juliet Ibekaku, Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reforms, Mrs Stella Jibrin, Ag. Director (Research and Documentation), Nigerian Press Council, Zakari Mijinyawa, Office of the National Security Adviser, and Lanre Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President. Others include Dr. Idris Yelwa (NITDA), Bashir Ahmad, Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Tijah Bolton-Akpan of Policy Alert, and Adebisi Alokolaro of Enough is Enough, Nigeria.