Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Chukwudi Nweje
Foremost economist Professor Pat Utomi has thrown his weight behind the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech (Establishment) Bill 2019 that seeks to institute the death sentence for Fake News and Hate Speech, saying public officials would be the most culpable violators.
Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the sponsor of the bill, had last December suggested that the controversial death penalty provision had been dropped.
The bill prescribes that any person who commits a Hate Speech offence shall be liable to life imprisonment and, where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.
Fielding questions from reporters at the #FixPolitics event with Obiageli Ezekwesili, a conference organised by the Robert Bosch Academy, Utomi described Nigeria’s public officials as being the biggest peddlers of Fake News, especially against those who disagree with them.
According to the former presidential candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC), the current public officials will be the first to pay the price once they leave office should the bill scale through.
According to Utomi, “In Nigeria, a terrible thing has happened to us because any view that is not a ‘Kabiyesi’ view is taken on by public officials.
“I was hoping that these laws on social media bills on the death sentence will be passed. You know why? Because people that are in office now when they leave office will be sentenced to death. Because they are the biggest sponsors of Fake News against people whose views don’t carry a ‘Kabiyiesi’ view.
“Our democracy cannot make progress without having public conversations and then we learn collectively and then the common good is advanced.
“The thesis that Dr Oby Ezekwesili has just advanced, the thesis of democracy monopoly, is exactly the point I was making. When you have that mindset of only one perspective, you cannot make progress. Monopoly capitalism has never resulted in innovation and growth and that is why countries like the United States have anti-trust laws to prevent monopoly.
“What has happened is that we have multiple monopolies in Nigeria. We have monopoly capitalism layered upon monopoly politics so the country is not making any progress. Because the few who have captured the Nigerian state space as politicians and as businessmen and innovation does not take place.
“You saw the innovation index that was shown, Nigeria is at the bottom even in the continent of Africa. Why are we that way? Because our politics is a monopoly politics, in our businesses all you have to do is align with whatever politicians are dominant this moment and, of course, we know that we do not have a democracy. Because I can argue and show evidence that there is no election that has been won in this country since 1999 without fraud.
“So we have a crisis as a country and we have to determine how to start. My biggest issue is that we have a moral majority which has just kept quiet and watching and allowed an immoral minority to govern this country and holding us hostage. And we see the outcome is violence everywhere, we see the outcome in lack of economic progress everywhere. The Nigerian people must take the country back as a majority and prevent this immoral minority from keeping all of us down.”
On the way forward, Utomi said: “Let us bring our people together and educate them on policies that are killing our country. They said there is no money, what else are you going to do? This government is impervious to ideas that will bring the country to change.”
Asked about the solution, he said: “If 300,000 Nigerians march in front of Aso rock, if they march in front of the National Assembly every day for six weeks, there will be change.”