ENGLISH poet, Alexander Pope, needs no introduction to members of the global literary fraternity, those inexorably committed to the sensuous business of creativity. But for the benefit of those engaged in vocations where the aesthetic and artistic processes occupy a minuscule patch, let me show love by introducing the famous English poet to the public.
Pope lived from 1688-1744. He is regarded as a leading light of the Augustan, Eighteen Century poetic sensibilities in England due to his satirical poetry which consistently provides a critical prism for social interpretation. His famous poem “The Rape of the Lock” presents a template for a discerning exegesis of events in Nigeria’s House of Senate, which many think has become a chamber of legislative drollery.
A first glance at the title of Pope’s poem “The Rape of the Lock” immediately rouses our sensibilities to his use of the word ‘rape’. Although the mind instantly acquires a sexual cognition of ‘rape’, Pope’s use of the word connotes entirely different meaning in the context of the poem. For Pope, ‘rape’ means to take away or remove something from an object thereby diminishing its value and importance. It could also mean a wilful debasement of a concept to suit an undisclosed, parochial, self-serving purpose. This is different from the popular ‘rape’ which describes the forceful initiation of sex without the consent of one of the persons involved.
Events in Nigeria show that democracy is constantly raped in the manner that Pope uses the word. Although there have been several attempts in different guises to rape and violate democracy in Nigeria, rendering it an unrecognizable mass of flesh, the concept has survived over the years. Right now, one of the greatest attributes of democracy, freedom of speech, stands on severe trial in the hallowed chamber of Nigeria’s Senate.
With the ongoing trial of democracy by Nigeria’s distinguished Senators, all of whom have risen to their present positions riding at the back of democratic provenance, there is a desperate commitment to decapitate freedom of speech as a democratic member. Democracy cries, democracy bleeds, and democracy is raped. Who among millions of Nigerians will stand up against this broad daylight rape of one of the greatest pillars of popular governance in the world, who will challenge it, who will speak up, and who will resist it? Sponsored by Deputy Senate Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill prescribes death by hanging for those found guilty of hate speech. The Bill seeks to establish a commission for the prohibition of hate speeches. To a well-meaning mind, the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill is antithetical to the tenets of democracy. It is difficult to reconcile the integrity mantra of the APC led government and death by hanging for those found guilty of hate speech, they run at cross-purposes to each other.
Put in its naked simplicity, the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill is a corollary of vile impulses, it is a way to stifle critical, dissenting voices against the government no matter how objective those voices may be. It is a way to hound the press, shut the masses up, and forestall any kind of criticism in the face of misrule and nauseating government policies. This is the truth no matter what semantics or nomenclature is given to the bill – speak against the government of the day and pay with your life, the rape is complete. I do not support fake news or slander against people, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has provisions for those who speak evil or give unsubstantiated information against persons or institutions.
But for the Senate to entertain a bill that attracts capital punishment for those found guilty of hate speech is in the least reprobate and retrogressive. That a government in the 21st century is considering the extinction of human life as a way of punishment when other countries are matriculating to modern innovations shows the kind of leadership we have in this country. If those who have committed diverse crimes against humanity, if Boko Haram members, herders who kill with relish and gusto are set free, if these scoundrels with their diseased minds were not sent to the gallows, then no crime in the country deserves to be punished by capital punishment.
Currently, Nigerians, both the educated and the layman, are all trying to find answers to what constitutes hate speech. What does it mean, what does it connote? Is the Nigerian Senate committed to using underhand, devious means to kill people whom they will inevitably find guilty of hate speech?
I join every voice of reason in this country to condemn the bill which prescribes death by hanging for those found guilty of hate speech. Democracy in Nigeria cannot survive this kind of mindless rape. If the Nigerian Senate succeeds with the hate speech bill, then the whole world will designate our country as a blood flowing fountain where the sanctity of human life is daily depreciated.
While enunciating the Hate Speech Bill and death by hanging as a consequence, let the distinguished Senators also consider the fate of politicians, past and present, who rigged elections, turning the whole process into warfare. By so doing, these politicians subverted the will of millions of people, corroding their collective destiny. The distinguished Senators should also consider the fate of public officers, civil servants or politicians who despoiled the exchequer, embezzling public funds and transmitting same abroad. To steal public funds and deny the citizens opportunities of a good life is a heinous behaviour because such acts also lead to the death of many citizens.
The honourable Senators should indeed consider governors in Nigeria who owe salaries, refusing to pay hard-toiling civil servants. Such governors are a disservice to humanity because by failing to pay salaries they enthrone poverty, hunger, starvation, and death in many homes. Nigerian Senators, in the discharge of their legislative duties, should consider the fate of those who commit perjury by presenting fake educational certificates, deceiving millions of Nigerians. Perjury is a serious offence, its borders on deceit and composite manipulation of the will of over two hundred million people.
The Nigerian Senate should as a matter of urgency, consider the fate of individuals who convey funds with bullion vans. This is a criminal offence never mind the selective bent of the agency charged with fighting financial crimes in Nigeria. It is unfair to humanity and extraterrestrial laws that while those who speak as democracy gives them utterance will be made to face death, those who have plunged our country into a tragic morass are celebrated and made to walk free. It is hoped that the Senate will reconsider its position on the repellent Hate Speech Bill so that democracy is spared of impending rape even if we face the morbid reality of living with other anomalies. The Senate should direct its energy and legislative expertise to make laws that will checkmate the rape of democracy, enthroning the rule of law instead of intimidating and silencing dissenting voices. Nigerians should not be taken for granted.
Dr Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]