UNODC Supports Nigeria in Countering Incitement to Terrorism while Protecting Free Speech

With over 103 TV stations, more than 40 nationally distributed newspapers and 277 radio stations, the volume of information disseminated through Nigeria’s numerous media platforms can be overwhelming. In addition to traditional media, there are an estimated 81 million Internet users in the country, 85% of whom are active on WhatsApp, 78% on Facebook and 53% on YouTube.

While media outlets and online platforms can be effective mediums for disseminating timely and accurate information, they can also be misused to spread destabilizing narratives, promote fake news, and even encourage extremist violence. 

Terrorist groups like Jamā'atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Da'wati wal-Jihād (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, commonly known as JAS) and Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) frequently use both online and traditional media platforms to spread their messages, intimidate members of the public, drown out moderate voices, and to attract new recruits, all of which pose a serious challenge to state institutions in charge of protecting citizens and preserving national security.

The United Nations has been increasingly active on the issue of incitement to terrorism, passing several resolutions, most notably Security Council resolution 1624 (2005), which makes specific reference to the prohibition of incitement to commit terrorist acts. In this regard, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) recently published a “Global survey of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1624 (2005) by Member States”, which provides a detailed regional overview of the steps taken by States to counter incitement to violent extremism, terrorist narratives and to commit terrorist acts.

In order to respond to these challenges, UNODC delivered, with the support of the European Union, a workshop in Abuja on incitement to terrorism through the media on 23-25 November.

During the workshop, international experts, representatives from the Nigerian justice and human rights community, and the Nigerian media discussed the dangers of defining incitement broadly. Further importance was placed on a robust independent media landscape, the relevance of legal concepts, the technical challenges to proving incitement charges in court, and collecting electronic evidence from social media platforms.

UNODC’s facilitators set out to deepen participants’ understanding of the role that criminal justice instruments can play in addressing the abuse of media and social media platforms as a means of inciting terrorism. Moreover, the facilitators strengthened the capacities of participants to apply fundamental human rights safeguards to any measures intended to prevent incitement.

On completing the workshop, a participant representing one of the Nigerian media outlets reflected: “As a journalist and judiciary correspondent, the workshop has broadened my knowledge on the Terrorism Prevention Act and its usage in prosecution. Journalists cannot only help to distribute information but also counter hate-speech and create an environment of balanced opinions. For the media, it could be problematic to find a balance between preventing harm caused by careless speech and protecting individual expression. Therefore, responsible journalism should be factual [and] devoid of sensationalism in its reportage.” 

Tom Parker, UNODC’s Project Coordinator for Counterterrorism Programming in Nigeria, added: “The issue of incitement to violence, and especially of incitement to terrorism, is an extremely complex one, in which striking the right balance between protecting the public’s freedoms and protecting the physical well-being of the public is a critical yet challenging task. It is our hope that the participants in this workshop will take back new information and perspectives to their parent organizations that will enhance ongoing efforts to counter the criminal activities of violent extremist and terrorist groups online.” 

To help member states navigate these complex issues, UNODC developed a publication on The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes.