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Law to stop talking

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The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

I do not know exactly what the Senate intends to achieve with the proposed law on hate speech, but as one of the persons at whom the law is aimed, I have a responsibility to exercise caution. Offenders of the law shall be killed. It is as brutal as that. My parents are still much alive and I do not want to die or be killed before them.

With this, the need to be careful cannot be over-emphasized. The proposal by none other than the spokesman of the Senate, Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger State), has reportedly gone through first reading. It is a wild-cat command that takes away almost every freedom of the tongue. A hate speech offender shall be: “a person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.”

To all intents and purposes, the plan is to upstage the colonial statute on sedition to a new height of cruelty. A commission, outside the conventional judicial system, shall be established to enforce the hate-speech law against offenders according to the proposal. It is however not in all cases that offenders of the law shall be killed. There is a small window of life. It comes when the offender only creates “harassment on grounds of religion, ethnicity or race” and not death, and it attracts a jail term of five years or N10 million fine or both, all of which is better than death.

Before I go any further, let me say there is anger in Nigeria because there is injustice. In Nigeria, some people produce the wealth and others enjoy it and that is why there is anger. Look at this for instance. The money for the proposed rail line to Niger Republic to connect a refinery in that country that will be built by the Nigerian government shall come from oil that is owned by people of Southern Nigeria. This is happening when the coastal rail line and road to connect and open up the oil producing states in the South have not been effectively discussed.

As I write, there is a proposal to recharge the vanishing Lake Chad and they are saying it as if it is N1000 MTN recharge card. It takes a jumbo $50 billion bill to channel water from the Congo Basin or some wetland in Central Africa into the lake. Much of that money will come from the Niger Delta, where the East–West Road estimated at less than $2 billion to provide basic access to the six states of the region has become a white elephant. Also, less or about 20 per cent of the $50 billion will start and finish both the coastal road and rail that have featured in infrastructural plans of the Federal Government for close to three decades without effect.

What is more, the $50 billion haul is outside payments to consultants that will provide the feasibilities on the cheapest possible ways to recharge the Lake Chad. At one summit of African leaders, Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama said the feasibilities would cost $15 million of which $5 million had been paid to the consultants by the Nigerian government, even as he restated the economic and security importance of Lake Chad to the Maghreb region and sought international collaboration in raising the big fund to do the recharging.

That is not all. The endless search for hydrocarbon deposits in the Chad Basin to forcefully create an elusive equilibrium between Southern and Northern Nigeria in resource ownership, has taken even more than $50b. Again, much of that came from the Niger Delta. After Lagos came Abuja. The two cities had blossomed and the latter especially is still blossoming on the resources from the same Niger Delta.

In all of these, there has not been a corresponding giveback to the region. This is injustice, which breeds legitimate anger among the producers of Nigeria’s resources. The Nigerian state is trying to recode into an offence expression of legitimate anger by an oppressed against his oppressor. I used to think only illness; accidents and lethal weapons could cause death until free speech is being added to the list of dangerous weapons, which use must be licensed by the authorities.

I can take liberties for today and write what I like because the law is still in the works. When it comes on stream, I shall stop writing and also get a blacksmith from Awka in Anambra State to do me a brass gag to lock-up my mouth to avoid accidental discharge. Stripped bare, the hate speech is about beating a child and denying him the freedom of weeping from the pains.

My people in the Niger Delta are the most beaten and angriest in Nigeria. Naturally, they cry most too. Since it has come to this, it is part of my responsibility to guide them against mass judicial killing. They should be told well ahead that very soon, anger shall cease to be legitimate and one shall require a permit by the police or hate speech commission to express it in any form even against the devil.

On a second thought, I genuinely want to support this law. Hatred is not good. I am a Christian and all the 66 books in the Holy Bible, which is my only guide in matters of spirituality can be compressed into just one word: love not hate. I am sure the Koran is not different. It is either a man (and woman too) is loving God, the Creator of heaven and earth with all his heart and might, or he is loving his neighbor as himself. Hate or more precisely, hate speech does not come in anywhere.

In effect, the APC government is doing so much to be godly. That Senator from Niger State wasn’t actually the first to mute the strict enforcement of the divine code in Nigeria. Sometime and somewhere last year, Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau announced that a bill against hate speech would be sent to the attorney general for onward transmission to the National Assembly for processing into law. And only last month at a conference by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said hate speech offenders would be punished in accordance with the 2011 Anti-terrorism Act.

If anything, there is greater synergy in the APC than it is manifest. There is actually no need for this over publicized Ahmed Bola Tinubu reconciliation committee to bring to harmony the various tendencies in the party. The APC is together and a measure of that is the perfect alignment in positions between the executive and legislative arms of the APC government on the matter of hate speech.

I just have one more thing to add. Since President Muhammadu Buhari has this penchant (since 1984) to operate laws retroactively, I ask for same for the planned hate speech act; at least from 2003 when Buhari started seeking a return to the presidency before it all happened in 2015. That way, so much money by way of fines (N10 million per offence/offender) will be earned to help the 2018 budget, which is having funding issues. I can’t say for sure how many people will make the fine list. But I can tell that President Buhari and Lai Mohammed will make it or even upgrade to the death list.


In this article:
Abraham Ogbodo
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