ALL well-meaning Nigerians and committed defenders of our hard-won democracy have every justification to rise in unison against, not just the Hate Speech Bill sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullahi, but also the Anti-Social Media Bill undergoing attention in the Senate.
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That these earlier-rejected bills are being brought back at the same time that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been threatening to curtail hate speech and the social media rings an alarm bell that the Mass Media may soon join the Judiciary and the Legislature as estates of the realm completely subjugated by the Executive Arm.
Once that happens, where will our democracy be? Our time-honoured status as a relatively vibrant, free society will be gone. What the British colonialists and our own military juntas failed to achieve would have been accomplished by an otherwise elected government.
The truth is that it is never easy to define what “hate speech” is. It is even more difficult to devise an appropriate way of dealing with it without harming the constitutional rights of Nigerians as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution. Such a law will undoubtedly hand to government the power to define hate speech and prosecute citizens based on that.
With the Judiciary having lost much of its independence in recent years it will be difficult, if not impossible, for those targeted by agents of the state under these laws to get justice. Once the Mass Media lose their voices and power to hold government to account, the doors to a dictatorship that we have never experienced in these shores will be thrown wide open. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop any President from railroading tenure elongation, thus ending the people’s power to influence or change their governments.
We are strongly convinced that Nigeria already has enough legislative and legal frameworks to tackle hate speech and the abuse of social media. We do not need any new commissions and laws for them.
We also strongly believe that hate speech, in most cases, is a response to bad governance, injustice, extreme nepotism which is rife in the current dispensation, the unabashed and unbridled promotion of ethnic and sectional agenda by people elected into government, impunity, corruption and lack of positive governmental impact on the lives of Nigerians.
Once leaders lead with justice, equity, respect for the Federal Character provision in our Constitution and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging, hate speech and social media abuse will abate to manageable levels.
The fear is that those pushing sinister, undemocratic and sectional hidden agendas could hide behind the Hate Speech and Social Media laws to sweep away the liberties of the Nigerian people and turn them into slaves in their own country.
We say no.