The federal government has denied stifling freedom of expression especially when it involves criticism from the media.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this on Conflict Zone, a political programme on Deutsche Welle when he appeared before Tim Sebastian.
He said there is a lot ignorance and mischief by the international community with regards to Nigeria stressing that the clampdown of some media houses by the federal government was because of the news they were pushing out.
“We are doing extremely well when it comes to freedom of the press. If papers run fowl of the law, they must face the consequences. We have a very robust free press. On the contrary, at a point in time I felt it was the government that was at the receiving end of government” he said.
Speaking on why government backed the Hate Speech Bill given the penalties involved, Alhaji Mohammed said “I feel what is more shocking is the ignorance of people. There is what is called separation of power in major democracies.
“This particular bill you are talking about is a bill submitted not by the Executive but by the Legislative arm of government. So, how can you accuse the Executive? We did not submit the bill.
This is private members bill, by a Senator and the Executive does not have a choice in which bills come through. You see the government does not come in until when the bill has been passed and we didn’t use any influence to get that done.
“The only thing we can do as a president is to refused to assent such a law, the law has not been passed yet. How does the President stop it without being accused of dictatorship? I think when we get to that bridge we look at the contents of that law; in what form will it be passed. But you see, people jump hastily to judgement. We don’t micromanage the parliament.”
The minister also denied knowing the protection of internet falsehood and manipulations bill stating that there is no such bill before the National Assembly.
While addressing questions on human rights abuses, the minister said the administration has suffered a lot of misrepresentation, stressing that the federal government has been sensitive to the issue of human rights.
“Sometimes terrorists, politicians, activists are confused to what is human rights but I do not know of any policy that is deliberately targeted at infringing anybody’s rights.
“Nigeria has been locked in a war with Boko Haram, for almost a decade and the kind of war we are fighting is a war amongst people; even the military has been careful to ensure that as much as possible, rights are not violated. As a matter of policy, government does not violate anybody’s right,” he said.
While acknowledging that several cases of abuses of rights by soldiers have not only been investigated, Alhaji Mohammed said they have been punished and have been made public.