The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has reiterated the importance of freedom of expression, access to information to democracy.
He said this in Abuja during a meeting with the Civil Society Organisations on Friday.
He said: “We all know that. And a lot takes place online and on our social media. But across the region and around the world, in the United States, we know how these forums can also be used to spread misinformation, hate, and even incite violence.”
He added that: “ So, one of the things I’m most keen to hear from you about is how you see government and how you see the private sector, how you see citizens in our democracies getting the right balance between a vibrant, open discourse that’s so essential, but also preventing that discourse from being used to inflict harm.”
Blinken said: “The second thing that I’m thinking about – I’m thinking about is some of you were very deeply engaged with the electoral and constitutional reforms that have passed here in Nigeria, including those below the age at which Nigerians can run for office. When it comes to keeping our democracies healthy and vibrant, we know how important it is to keep young people engaged and make them feel that the system is theirs to shape, and that it’s actually responsive to what they care about, to their futures, to their aspirations. And so, I’d be eager to hear from each of you whether that is in fact the case, and if it’s not, of what you think we can do to strengthen that connection between young people, rising generations, and our democracies.”
He said the report of the the independent Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry is clearly an important step toward accountability for the killings and other abuses alleged to have been committed by security forces during the “End SARS” protests, a year ago.
Blinken said: I’d be very interested in getting your perspectives on that: “I really just want to recognize the role that many of you played, particularly the faith leaders who are here, in defusing tensions that can result in communal violence. This is an extraordinarily diverse country when it comes to faith and religion. So many different views in one country. And that’s a very wonderful and powerful thing. But of course, it also comes with challenges and the potential for tensions and violence. And I very much appreciate the role that you play in making sure that that’s not the case.”
He added that: “We’ve seen that the trust that you’ve earned from communities can make all the difference in preserving peace, and your leadership is one that we hope more will follow, not just in Nigeria but beyond. So those are some of the things that were on my mind. Mostly, though, eager to hear from each of you, and to have a conversation.”