Some commentators see this as another example of the Buhari administration curtailing the constitutional rights of citizens. The details of the incident are unclear since the government agency where she claimed to have been a member of staff (or on secondment to) has come out to deny any such incident. Whatever is the case, it does no harm to remind ourselves of the consequences of our actions and utterances on social media. Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for our freedom of expression. The Section provides as follows: (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information ideas and opinions: Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever. (3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society – (a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure, of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or (b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law. (Emphasis mine) Internet use has become such an integral part of our daily lives that sometimes it is easy to cross boundaries that would be unacceptable outside the realm of cyberspace. Employers, aiming to protect their reputation and independently vet the character of people in their employ, often turn to the internet and social media for assistance. Internet monitoring can be used by employers to assess employee performance, and to monitor behaviour in consonance with the employer’s code of conduct. For the employer, the protection of their property and good name is of concern, and for the employee, the concern is for the protection of privacy. To strike a balance in protecting the rights of both parties, it seems that the key to allowable monitoring is to ensure that employees are made aware that they are being monitored, the reasons for monitoring and the methods by which they are being monitored. Secret monitoring is only permitted under limited circumstances such as when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. It is easy to reconcile the employer’s desire to protect their property and the monitoring of the use of their property which include internet systems owned by the company. Employees must, however, also note that in a bid to protect their good name, employers may also be concerned with employees’ activities on social media. Although there is little direction from this jurisdiction, cases from other jurisdictions suggest that where a conflict arises between an employer and employee over social media, the courts will look at the wider circumstances and factors such as the damage caused to the employer’s business by a social media post and the employee’s expression of remorse. As everyone who uses social media should know, there is no privacy in social media. People have lost jobs even before they start the position because of their posts on social media. You may polish off nicely for the job interview, but often, your social media activity gives your employer access to your character and personal ideals. Policymakers in Europe and Canada are concerned about the extent to which employers now look to the social media accounts of job candidates to take a decision on whether or not to hire the candidate but this is what it is at this time. Most employers have social media policies that cover conduct of their employees even on the employee’s private social media accounts. What is important is that every employee must be an expert in their terms of employment and any code that governs their conduct and the discipline procedure for misconduct. While there have been cases where employees have been terminated for conduct in their private lives, exhibited on their social media accounts, the courts will always consider whether or not the principles of fair hearing and natural justice were adhered to in arriving at a disciplinary action. The employee/offender must be informed of his offence and what conditions in their terms of engagement have been breached. The employee/offender must then be given an opportunity to defend himself before any action is taken against him. The employer must provide this opportunity in good faith. For instance, inviting an employee to a panel with no prior notice and summarily dismissing the employee the same day is probably not a fair hearing. My message, as always, is that the Internet has a long memory. Be wise.]]>

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