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Nigeria has no plans to restrict the use of social media networks

The country's stance differs from the more restrictive policies of other African countries

While several African countries are closing online newspapers and regulating the use of social media networks, Nigeria is taking its online communications policy in a different direction.

Many African countries see social media networks as tools for promoting uprisings against the governments in the region. Zambia and Malawi are two of the countries in Africa pursuing legislation to close online publications and restrict social media use. Critics say such proposed laws pose a threat to the growth of Internet in the region.

However, the Nigerian government claims that, although social media in the country is being used improperly for criminal activities such as abductions and killings in the oil rich African country, it will not suppress these online services.

The Nigerian government accuses a network of insurgents called Boko Haram of using social media services to coordinate attacks on government and private communication installations and buildings. Thousands of people have died as a result of attacks from insurgents who want the country to adopt Islamic Sharia law.

Still, government officials in Nigeria -- Africa's largest telecom market in terms of investments and subscriptions -- say social media is also being used for legitimate communications purposes by many people, including senior government officials, and that it has become a part of people's lives.

"What the agency is doing is to encourage them to do the right things when using social media. We cannot control the lifestyle of individuals -- that would be too excessive," Mike Omeri, director general of Nigeria's National Orientation Agency, told the official Nigeria news agency last week.

On the other hand, the Zambian government has almost finished drafting a law aimed at closing online newspapers that are critical of the government.

Minister of Home Affairs Edgar Lungu said the Zambian government this year will also prosecute editors of online publications accusing them of circulating "defamatory and treasonable" articles.

"The government has instituted investigations to ascertain publications that are responsible for publishing defamatory and treasonable articles," Lungu said in a recent press conference.

The Zambian government's move is seen by media companies in the country as a gag on press freedom.

Last year, Zambian president Michael Sata ordered the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country's telecom sector regulator, to close the Zambian Watchdog Online claiming it was promoting hate speech. Zambian Watchdog Online is an online newspaper that has become critical of the Zambian government. The newspaper was not closed because ZICTA said it was hosted outside the country.

In Malawi, the government has already passed a law allowing government officials to censor what their citizens do online. It seeks to regulate and control online communication including social media networks in the country. For example, the law requires that editors of online publications make known their names, home addresses and telephone numbers in addition to other information.

The law further introduces the concept of government-appointed cyber-inspectors who have the powers to, among other duties, monitor and inspect any website or activity on any information system in the public domain and report any unlawful activity to the regulatory authority.


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