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Nigerian TikTokers sentenced to whipping

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By Abraham Adekunle

The two were found guilty in court and punished by also cleaning the court.

After the subsequent banning of the Twitter web application by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the world has seen more censoring in the form of internet bans and internet shutdowns. For instance, in Iran, the internet was reportedly shut down because multitudes of people took to the street to Protest the killing of a young woman because she had not worn her hijab properly. Although videos of protesters being manhandled, threatened and teargassed by the police found their way onto the internet, many of the people in the country could not access the internet.

In the last couple of months, Nigeria has also seen a couple of incidents like this, though no outright internet ban or shutdown has occurred. The Social Media space in Northern Nigeria is a space where northerners must use the same way as their everyday space. Two TikTok stars, Mubarak Isa Muhammad and Muhammad Bala, were sentenced to a whipping and forced to clean the court after they used the Social Media platform to mock a government official.

The two reportedly defamed Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano.

The two were found guilty of defaming Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano State. In response, their lawyer said that they would not be challenging the decision of the court. Muhammad and Bala were arrested a week before the judgement was passed after they posted their video on TikTok. In the video, they mocked the governor for alleged land grabbing, Corruption and sleeping on the job. They posted the video on TikTok and Facebook. Nigeria has seen a growing number of Social Media personalities who use comedy to comment on social and political issues.

These Social Media influencers, known as skit makers, use satire and humor to drive home their point so that their contents are entertaining as well as educating. It should be noted Governor Abdullahi Ganduje was caught on video allegedly stashing dollar notes in his “babaringa” dress a few years ago. This scandal was a Social Media sensation, one that every Social Media user was confronted with at least more than once. Hence, the TikTokers may have accused him of Corruption and other irregularities as an offshoot of this as well as subsequent actions the governor has taken.

The judge ordered the accused to be whipped.

Kano State is a Muslim-majority state in Northern Nigeria. It is one of the Sharia-practicing states in the north. This means that there are two court jurisdictions in the state: the government’s (which is administered using federal laws) and the Sharia court (which is administered by Islamic laws). The Sharia laws governing that jurisdiction are usually steep, but by default, only Muslims can be tried in those courts. This is why the accused were arrested and simply charged to a Sharia court; they are Muslims.

The prosecution lawyer, Wada Ahmed Wada, said that the men had defamed the governor and that their action was capable of disturbing public Peace. The men pleaded guilty and asked for leniency. The judge ordered that they should be given 20 lashes each, that they should pay a fine of N10,000, and that they should clean the court premises for 30 days. They were also ordered to publicly apologize to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje on the same Social Media.

Is social media really a platform for free speech?

Their lawyer told the BBC that they would not challenge the judgement because it was a “non-custodial” sentence, that is, the convicted will not be jailed. There has been a rapid increase in TikTok users in Nigeria in recent years, particularly among the young people. These users sometimes mock public figures, including government officials, by clipping images or videos, often to create comedies that brings them traction. If incidents that occurred to the convicted goes unchecked, can we really say that Social Media is really a free-speech platform?

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