Is Nigerian Government Monitoring Citizens’ Phone and all Social Media Conversations?

VERDICT: False and Misleading

CLAIM: CDD Fact checkers spotted a viral message trending on WhatsApp on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 with claim the that there is a new communication regulation which allows the Nigeria government to monitor a wide range of communication channels including phone calls, WhatsApp conversations, Twitter, Facebook, all social media and forums. The Message further claimed that citizens’ ‘’devices are connected to ministry systems’’, and that the new regulation was initiated by the is Minister of Communication, Dr. Isah Ali Pantami.

FACT: A fact check conducted by the Centre for Democracy and Development shows that the message is a global hoax, which didn’t start from Nigeria. The check also showed that in October 2017, a similar message went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms in India. It was attributed to the India Ministry of Interior. Earlier in April of the same year, the message circulated  in Ghana and was attributed to the Ministry of Interior and was later debunked in a statement signed by the Ghanian Chief Director for the Ministry, Mrs Adelaide Anno-Kumi. The minister said emphatically that “there is no such new communication regulation and thus calls on the general public to disregard the news item’’

Further checks by our Fact Checkers show that the message also went viral in June 2017 in Saudi Arabia after it was shared by a popular Facebook page, People of Saudi Arabia. This particular message has travelled the world since  2012 making stops in The United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia and Nigeria in 2017.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy was contacted, a staffer at the Ministry referred CDD fact checkers to the official social media channels and website of the Ministry. The staffer claimed that all information relating to the Ministry can be found online. Following the review  of the website and social media handles of the Ministy, Fact Checkers can authoritative state that there is no circular, press statement of policy direction that validate the existence of the new regulation. Fact checkers also reviewed the official social media handle of the Minister, Dr Isa Patami. 

A source at the Minister’s office, who preferred not to be named, responded when reached, the statement reads: “Of course it’s fake, not even worth responding to, in my opinion, under which law will the government arrest and prosecute people for forwarding messages.  The source said the Minister is aware Nigerians are against censorship considering their rejection of the two bills on social media and the hate speech and that the message is a shoddy job by the merchants of fake news.

Fact checkers reviewed the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended, to ascertain the claim; the Constitution inSection 39 (1) protects the freedom of expression and personal liberty of the citizens. Under this provision, no governmental/public body can record, save or monitor a citizen’s private conversation. The government of a democratic country cannot, without any legal circumstance, invade the privacy of its citizens.

It is also worthy of note that WhatsApp, the social media platform, which the message claimed, the government will be monitoring is almost completely encrypted from end-to-end, which makes it almost impossible to track the movement of messages, making it fairly simple for someone to start a trail of fake news messages without ever being able to go back to the original sender.

CONCLUSION

The claim that government is monitoring conversation on phone and all social media is FALSE. Therefore, the viral WhatsApp message which claimed that: “from tomorrow onwards there will be a new communication regulation to monitor conversations of every Nigerians by the government” is false and misleading.

CDD urges Nigerians to desist from the spread of misinformation, a good practice is to verify source of information before sharing. Disinformation, misinformation and fake news are injurious to the common existence. Join CDD in the campaign to #StopFakeNews.