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Social media and its Senate malcontents

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
LAST week, a very controversial bill passed second reading in the Nigerian Senate. The bill titled: “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions”, is sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, representing Kebbi South. The bill’s sponsor said it is aimed at whoever makes “an allegation or publish a statement or petition in the newspaper, radio, or medium of whatever description against another person, institutions of government, or any public office holder”.

And to underline the intendments of the new bill, whoever falls foul will go to prison for two years; there will also be fines dependent on the media form used to convey the allegations that fall foul of Bala Na’Allah’s bill. Thus, a “false allegation” issued via radio, television or print media, would carry a fine of N4 million, while the same allegation, issued through social media, would attract a fine in the sum of N2 million. Na’Allah’s bill gave an omnibus coverage of social media, to include forms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, SMS and WhatsApp, as platforms upon which “false allegations” could face prosecution.

There was an obvious rush to pass the bill, because Na’Allah presented it for first reading on November 24 and the second passed last week on December 2. Many senators, including Biodun Olujimi (a former television broadcaster), spoke in support of the controversial bill, arguing that: “…the amount of falsehood flying everywhere is staggering and a scapegoat has to be made as deterrent for others”.

Threat to democracy

The controversial Dino Melaye specifically targeted the online medium, SAHARA REPORTERS, which he described as “a threat to democracy with their continued act of insubordination”. He asked the Nigerian government to “…write the US Government on their (SAHARA REPORTERS’) misinformation”; further seeking Senate censure of the news channel, because according to him, SAHARA REPORTERS was “…blackmailing and intimidating the Senate”.

And when SUNDAY TRUST interviewed BalaNa’Allah, he remarked that “…the public cannot blackmail us into saying that we cannot sit down and make laws for our country”. What he failed to state, which Nigerians see through, is the attempt to hide their faces behind a finger. Politically exposed senators are attempting to make a law specifically for themselves!

The BukolaSaraki-led 8th Senate has lurched from one controversy to the other since its controversial inauguration on June 9, 2015. The same body was also allegedly preparing a law to extend immunity to the National Assembly leadership, in order to protect its President, Bukola Saraki, from facing prosecution in the courts.

The speed at which the anti-social media bill is being rushed strengthens suspicions about Na’Allah’s motive. Bala Na’Allah is one of Saraki’s most gung-ho sidekicks in the 8th Senate and that says a lot about his new bill! Luckily, the Presidency early this week dissociated itself from the Senate stating that: “The President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the Constitution of Nigeria”.

In a democracy, it noted, people “are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might”. That is lost on the politically exposed senators who seem thoroughly scared of democracy’s open forum which allows citizens use of social media platforms. Citizen power traumatises senators because social media in citizens’ hands endangers the regimes of heist and irresponsibility of the politically exposed.

Democracy’s open forum

The 8th Senate has too many individuals who must eventually answer questions about their stewardship of the resources of the Nigerian people. An anti-social media legislation as proposed, is actually a weapon in the hands of those who feel very worried about what the immediate future holds for them under the current dispensation, with President Buhari’s zero tolerance for the corruption that many of the leading political actors are used to; have profited from and want to continue in our country.

In real terms, it the constitutionally guaranteed right of the media to hold government accountable to the Nigerian people, that this proposed law is trying to oust. If we allow this absurd and arrogantly self-serving bill to find the light of day, it seems clear to me that the Saraki-led 8th Senate won’t stop at muzzling social media outlets. It is social media today; but the entire Nigerian media will also be endangered.

The Nigerian media remain the social space where, in the final analysis, most of the crimes the politically exposed have committed against our country will be exposed and interrogated. It is that possibility of exposure and interrogation, which these forces want to subvert. No, it is not SAHARA REPORTERS or social media that endangers democracy.

It is those who have stolen Nigeria blind and have accumulated huge sums therefore; and are fighting the battles of their lives in courts; in the space of public opinion and who can manipulate national institutions to aid a desperate battle for personal and political survival, that endanger Nigeria’s democracy! These are the forces that Bala Na’Allah’s anti-Social Media bill is attempting to defend. They are social media’s malcontents in the Nigerian Senate and Nigeria’s political society. They would fail if we can build a national movement to stop them!

Prof. Eskor Toyo: Passing of a giant of thought and action

On Tuesday this week, Chido Onumah, Coordinator of the Abuja-based African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, posted an obituary for Professor Eskor Toyo, one of the most distinguished Marxist scholars that Africa has ever produced. Comrade Eskor Toyo died on Monday, December 7, 2015 at the age of 86.

His death has triggered a genuine outpouring of tributes from all over Nigeria, for a most committed intellectual and first class polemicist, who spent his very productive lifetime as an intrepid protagonist of the working people and the poor in our country, Africa and the world working class movement.

Many of the tributes I have read came from people who never had a direct personal contact with Eskor Toyo, but were indirectly affected by his prodigious intellectual output and his genuine commitment to the very best interests of our country. Comrade Eskor Toyo lived an intensely engaged life of the revolutionary intellectual and his life, from the obituary posted by Onumah, had been one of a brilliant academic background too.

University matriculation

He had passed the Cambridge School Certificate in Grade One in 1945 and was therefore exempted from London University matriculation.

He was also to pass the Higher School Certificate (Cambridge); earned a Diploma in Public Administration and B. Sc. In Economics from the University of London; a First Class in Postgraduate Diploma in National Economic Planning; Masters and Doctorate (Cum Laude) in Economics.

For the generation of Nigerian Marxists and working class activists of the 1970s and the 1980s, Comrade Eskor Toyo was certainly one of the leading cadres that we learned from.

The incredible hallmark of those decades, was how a genuinely pan-Nigerian movement dedicated to a revolutionary transformation of our country had been constructed, yet there was also an underlining tragedy of fractiousness of that movement. The petty bourgeois intellectual and activist can be a major contributor to historically significant processes of struggle, but was never able to construct the organisational platform to carry out revolutionary transformation of society.

At least that was what the Nigerian example taught and when the world socialist system collapsed; it did not take long for the Nigerian detachment to atrophy and individual cadres moved on, with many becoming civil society activists who ironically became dependent on the dollars which came from imperialism. Comrade Eskor Toyo was one of the last men standing in the trenches of the struggle for the socialist transformation of Nigeria.

It was a commitment that he never abandoned, despite the despair and the reactionary ambience associated with imperialism’s triumph in the ideological struggle with socialism. I do hope younger generations of Nigerians, who make up the overwhelming segment of our country’s population today, will learn the lessons of rigorous intellectual development, principled commitment to his cause and a remarkable staying power. You might not accept socialism, but those qualities are very essential to building a truly modern country.

With Professor Eskor Toyo’s passing, the Nigerian, African and the international working have lost a truly committed fighter. May his example of patriotic commitment and dedicated intellectual labour endure to inspire newer generations of patriots able to do their duty to our country!

Alhaji Nuhu Muhammad Sanusi: 20 years as emir of Dutse

Tomorrow, Friday, December 11, 2015, marks the twentieth anniversary on the throne, for His Royal Highness (HRH) AlhajiNuhu Muhammad Sanusi, the Emir of Dutse. Two weeks ago, I received a call from him; he had called to inform me of the ceremony and asked that I sent my office address so he could send an invitation letter to the anniversary. HRH  Muhammad Sanusi was a Delegate to the 2014 National Conference, and was one of the very silent influencers who spent time helping to build bridges across the suspicions which marked most of our time at the Conference. He spoke sparingly but was always a dignified presence amongst the delegates.

Dignified presence

My relationship with Dutse became especially strong from 2013, when I was appointed a member of the Technical Committee Governor SuleLamido tasked with helping to midwife the Jigawa State Television. I travelled to the Jigawa State capital almost on a weekly basis and was delighted at the impressive turnaround that Dutsehas seen in the 20 years that HRH Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi has been Emir.

The transformation had been particularly rapid in the past eight years of Lamido’s governorship of the state. A sleepy town was transformed into a modern capital with well-laid out streets, offices, new housing developments, shops and commercial enterprises; even a brand new Federal university came into the remarkable transformation of the past 20 years.

There must be a lot going for the Emir of Dutse, especially because he never fails to carry himself with dignity. While providing the stability of tradition with so much grace, at a period of fast-paced changes as well the challenges characteristic of a civilian political era, HRH is said to be a passionate golf player and he uses that as a very personal and social form of finding inner peace and calmness.

HRH MuahmmadSanusi is a man of tradition who is nevertheless knowledgeable in the ways and dictates of modernity too. The changes that his city and emirate have witnessed in the past 20 years are testimony to the Emir’s leadership and the ambience that has provided for the development of his community. On this occasion of 20 years on the throne, I will like to extend best wishes to HRH Muhammad Sanusi, Emir of Dutse. Allah yajazamaninsarki. Amin

 


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