Whether intended or not, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is fast losing the veneer of democratic government. It is assuming, sadly, the halo of dictatorship. I doubt if this was ever intended. In 2015, Buhari, a first class military dictator, convinced a majority of Nigerians that he was born again; that he was no longer the swashbuckling, gun-totting tyrant that once held the nation down under his mean jackboot; that old things have passed away. The people believed him. At least, it reflected in the manner they cast their votes for him to get Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a true democrat but ineffective leader, out of the way.
Buhari was hawked on the streets of Nigeria as a meek lamb. But the same has returned to his old path. A mean and menacing dictator. Nothing exemplifies this more than the action of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the case of Omoyele Sowore, a citizen journalist and activist who was held by DSS against the ruling of a court of law that he should be released. And then, there is the other small matter of Buhari’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, pushing to ‘sanitise’ Social Media.
On top of that is yet another little matter. A bill to establish a Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches found its way back to the Senate. The bill, ill-conceived and monstrously obnoxious, was dead on arrival when it was first introduced last year. The 8th Senate killed the bill after it was considered unfit for the nation and not helpful to deepening the democratic process. Its sponsor, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North), must have suddenly found courage in the ongoing onslaught on free speech by the Federal Government and much more by the obvious acquiescence by the 9th Senate to anything coming from the Executive arm of government.
The offensive bill strangely proposes death sentence among others as penalty for offenders. And if you add into this seething broth the consistent and persistent abuse of court orders by the Federal Government, the invasion of the 8th National Assembly by men of the DSS and other security agents, the harassment and detention of journalists in Abuja, Cross River, Kaduna and other places, the upward review of fines for broadcasters for offences only determined by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and not by the courts, then you will begin to appreciate the nation’s steady descent into the infamous abyss of anarchy and fascism.
But Buhari does not need this drama. He does not need this type of ‘help’ from the DSS. If anything, the DSS is only helping to damage the reputation of the President. Sanitising Social Media and establishing a Commission devoted to curtailing hate speech should not be the priority of the Nigerian government at this time. Those who promote such causes do more harm to Buhari and his legacy. No responsible democracy would go out of its way to gag free speech in clear contravention of the Constitution it swore to uphold.
No responsible democratic government would seize a citizen granted liberty via lawfully sought bail in outright breech of the ruling of a competent court. No responsible democratic government in the 21st century would seek to shut its citizens out of the social media space through Draconian legislation. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right of a citizen. It is boldly stated in Section 39 of the Nigerian constitution (as Amended). It means I have a right to say what I want to say even if what I am saying is nonsense and gibberish.
If you feel offended by what I say, you also have the right to approach a court of law to prove that what I said has injured your reputation or the reputation of a people. We have enough extant laws within which every action and every word spoken or written in the Social Media ecosystem would be scrutinised in the courts. This country does not need additional layers of legislations and bureaucracies to check perceived abuses of social media and free speech.
Those who argue that hate speech is capable of tearing the nation apart and setting it on the path of a conflagration just need to have a rethink. Nigeria is brutally seared on the hate lines of ethnicity and religion. There is therefore an overriding need to foster ethnic cohesion. But this can never be achieved via legislation. To achieve national harmony, leaderships at all levels must offer justice and fairness to all. Equity, justice and fairness for all and to all are the tripodal props that power the engine of national harmony.
National harmony does not happen by making laws; it happens when state actors act in the interest of all, excluding none. The absence of justice and fairness to all is a recipe for national disharmony. When a government is full of hate actions, it attracts hate speeches. The cure is not to ride roughshod over the people. The cure for hate speech, national discontent and perceived extremism on social media is to offer good, inclusive governance. This is lacking in the Buhari government.
Sadly, the security agencies who should be helping the President to make a success of his tenure and mitigate hardship visited on the people by the failure of leadership over the years are busy striving to out-perform one another. They have constituted themselves into a menacing garrison to gag free speech, shackle civil liberties and suffuse the nation in a darkling veil of morbid fear. Good governance does not breed fear; bad governance does.
The DSS, Lai Mohammed and the horde of courtiers working very hard to abridge people’s right to free speech should worry more about decaying infrastructure nationwide. The roads are bad and unsafe at any speed. Naira has lost its bounce and weight in the global money market; insecurity is unbearably high; hunger stalks the land with imperial swagger. The list is long. These are the issues that should engage Buhari and agents of his government. No amount of social media ‘sanitisation’ would fix broken roads. Gagging free speech does not and cannot put food on the table.
These distractions are needless. Buhari does not need them. If I were Mr. Buhari, I would as a matter of urgency call Lai Mohammed to order. As chief security officer of Nigeria, Buhari should not play the Possum, looking the other way while security agents under his command and watch run riot, desecrating the orders of court.
The world is watching. If Mr. Buhari ever cares about his legacy and place in history, he should worry about the plight of the masses most of whom have become further impoverished since he assumed office in 2015. He should worry about the lopsided distribution of wealth and appointments. These are the things that throw up disharmony in the nation, not my candid opinion or other people’s comment on social media.
But the greatest villain in this whole saga is the 9th Senate. A Senate that promotes hate speech bill and proposes capital punishment for perceived offenders is nothing but anti-people Senate. That’s what the 9th Senate is.