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Segun Osoba: Any repressive government can abuse social media bill if passed

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[FILES] Osoba. Photo; QED

Chief Segun Osoba, a former Managing Director of Daily Times Newspaper and former Governor of Ogun State, is a renowned journalist, who covered the Nigerian Civil War. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on the social media and hate speech bills before the National Assembly.

What are the dangers inherent in social media and hate speech bills currently before the Senate?
The danger in passing the proposed social media bill into law is that a repressive government could abuse it. If we have another late Gen. Sani Abacha in the saddle and that kind of bill or law is available to him, the consequences, particularly to ordinary Nigerians would be far-reaching and grievous. You will recall that during Abacha’s era, an attempt was made to bomb The Guardian. If it was successful, the causality would have been very high, because the bomb would have exploded during production, when activities are high inside the premises, especially in the printing section.

The late publisher of the paper, Dr. Alex Ibru was made to pay the supreme price, simply because The Guardian decided to live by its philosophy and editorial policy of being objective and fair irrespective of the fact that Ibru was appointed a minister by Abacha. That was the only sin of Ibru and attempt was made to assassinate him. He survived it but didn’t survive the trauma and its effect on his psyche, which eventually led to his death. I can go on with examples of those who suffered under Abacha.

For example, the immediate past MD of NAN, Mr. Bayo Onanuga was attacked and those of us in government then knew what we went through. Why we are raising the alarm is based on historical experience. I can give you more examples. Former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Newswatch Communications Limited, Mr. Ray Ekpu is still alive; when the headquarters of the then NITEL went on fire and the whole building was destroyed, a civilian government, under the late President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, locked up Ekpu, Dele Giwa and one other, whom it charged to court because they wrote a column commenting on the fire at NITEL. And I think Ekpu made a joke that if anybody discovered that there is any trouble in any organisation, the person can set the office on fire and destroy documents. They were charged for instigating the fire in NITEL. You can imagine such a repressive action under a civilian government. This is why most of us who have been in the media industry for a reasonable length of time are worried, not for ourselves though. The social media I must admit in many cases is a torn in the flesh of practitioners. We must be honest enough to admit that. Some of the bloggers are blackmailers. No serious professional would support some of the stories published by these bloggers, because many of them are not trained. They write unprofessional and dangerous stories. I accept that, but it is not a reason to make everybody, including ordinary Nigerians to suffer for the sin of few people.

How can government correct the excesses by social media platforms?   
There are other threats to the survival of Nigeria than social media. Have we given the death penalty to the people destroying the nation’s economy? Is the death penalty a modern-day answer, when it has become unfashionable. In any case, how many of those that have been sentenced to death in Nigeria has actually been executed? The first problem with the bill is the idea of the death penalty. To check the excesses of social media, I have recommended professionals in a journalism setting up credible online platforms. This is one of the major answers to the problem.
 
Secondly, some of the bloggers are not even residing in Nigeria. So, how do you control people who don’t reside in the country? This is why I am saying that the law is what a repressive government can use to destroy.
For example, during my period in Daily Times, we printed over 250, 000 copies daily, but today the entire newspapers don’t print up to that. We have to go e-vending, where all the newspapers are read online. I read most international newspapers online every day. We have to move into the Internet and attack the bloggers by providing alternative platforms.  If we move in, as a way of balancing and attacking the issue, we would virtually drive out the bloggers, who are blackmailers.

But the government is also being accused of instigating the bills for an ulterior motive, probably a third term agenda?    
The man, who proposed the bill, is not being sponsored by APC, as a party. Also, the government is not the one sponsoring the bill. I am a founding member of the party and I am not supporting it. How then can you now accuse APC or the government of APC of being behind the hate speech bill? I have consistently attacked the idea. It is some individuals and not even the senators that are behind it. I have engaged many of the senators who also feel worried about some of the provisions in the bill. I can tell you that many of the senators don’t agree with the idea of the bill.

Are you not concerned with the attention given to the bills by the Senate so far?   
Going from the first reading to second reading is a routine procedure for the senate. We should not get unduly worried. Second reading means that it can now go for debate on the floor of the Senate. I agree with you that the senators should be encouraged to work on other issues that constitute greater threat to the survival of the country, particularly the electoral procedure.
 
I am a practitioner in the electoral process and I can confess to you that elections in Nigeria have been brutally monetised. It is a disgrace. I have seen voters on the day of the election, who were demanding that they are willing to sell their votes, that is the greater danger. It is the reason the National Assembly should speed up the reform of the Electoral Act. I am not happy over the causalities we have during elections. If we are not careful in 2023, when there will be no Buhari, and the contest intensive, if we don’t reform the electoral system, I foresee the danger in the use of deadly weapons to prosecute the election process.
  
I do agree with you that the fragile nature of the country should not allow inflammatory statements that can lead to terrible disaffections, particularly when we look at how the civil war started.


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