The media as villain in a democracy?
Gentlemen of the press, all ye newsmen, play-wright, video and electronic devices producers, writers, critics the dice is cast. Thumb your chest no more in self appraisal. Pocket your ego. Swallow your pride and drop your high shoulders. Because you have been claiming that Nigeria’s democracy owes its existence to the sacrifice of pro-democracy activists, critics and the media organisations who fought the military regime for its actualisation that the nation especially politicians enjoys currently. You all have had your day. Those who now enjoy your ‘mischievous’ and oftentimes ‘malicious’ criticism of the military then, have now decided to treat the media with disdain as they formulate pattern to checkmate its activities through a proposed death penalty edict. That seems to be the message from the Senate knowing that every government the world over is a policy failure and it is only the media that can expose and bash the government for its poor leadership indices, such that has seen many Nigerians entombed in poverty.
In recent past, the media has become a pain in the neck as its worries and reports the ruling party’s poor leadership, causing sleepless nights in government circles. Therefore, to protect itself from more bashing, the press, social media or any medium of communication has been penciled down by the Senate as a victim of something ancient, draconian and nasty. The other day, the Senate in its ‘hallowed’ wisdom re-introduced Hate Speech Bill with death sentence as penalty. For some people, the Senate is about to pass a bill in which the main focus is foxhunting. The bill provides: “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill 2019 (SB 154) shall consume any 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 words or behavior commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances… against any person or persons from such an ethnic group in Nigeria…”. The purpose of the bill is obvious, to silence and gag the organised media establishments, social media outfits and of course any medium of communication used in criticising or speaking about the ills of the mighty in the society. Political leaders in Africa are known to subject journalists by expanding arms of the law churned out to curb journalists’ activities. While their works are constantly under attack and security agencies are trailing behind for a possible arrest and detention.
Of course, it is not a surprise for a nation like Nigeria that houses dozens of media organisations and many self styled journalists on social media networks known for peddling ‘half baked’ information. Therefore, it is fashionable at the moment for the Senate to certainly have a good argument for revisiting the hate speech bill because the country is becoming dangerous with the kind of information been circulated on social media. But, the Senate should also bear in mind that sooner than later the hate speech bill will turn every Nigerian on the other side of the fence culpable of the hate speech crime. It is an astonishingly bleak picture for Nigerian politicians in the Senate, in the 21st century to agree to pass a bill to gag free speech. It is hard to overstate the scale of the damage such bill will cause when it becomes law. Nigerian Politicians should concern themselves more seriously with issues affecting Nigerians about the economic perils, unemployment, insecurity among others facing the nation, than being radical about prescriptions called hate speech.
Indeed, power is worrying when it becomes entrenched in absolutism. Then it corrupts. Therefore, by one calculation, the Senate has engaged itself in an overblown rhetoric and muddled its thinking to believe that hate speech bill will do the country proud and protect citizens from undue attack. Far from it. Are the Senators not aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and later adopted as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981? Also, they seem to be shying away from chapter 4, Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution that provides “…Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference”. While sub-section 2 provides “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and information”.
Besides the above, politicians should look at what is happening around the world with technology. How countries are using technology to develop its citizens and improve the country’s economy and the living standard of the people. Nigerians are looking for political leaders to provide genuine leadership avenues that will inject optimism which will make the country a better place. It is sad that the ruling party is yet to grasp the enormousness of the challenges ahead. Does the ruling party think, in the eye of the Senate that gagging the press by stifling freedom of speech will ensure peace and decorum in the society and of course bring about development?
This writer strongly believes that rather than gag the media, government should carry it along in the business of governance to achieve a successful Nigerian project. That is the dream of every Nigerian. No matter the way the media is handled, the cheering news is that the media is a part of the people. Therefore, hope is not lost among Nigerians irrespective of the fact that the people have often made mistakes about those they elected into political offices. But given the time and facts, they will make amend at the appointed time. It is up to Nigeria’s politicians particularly those in the ruling party to hold up a mirror to their face and see if that could give them a clue as to what is happening in the society. This is because politicians often turn their face away from the larger picture of anguish and bewilderment among Nigerians. Nigeria’s politicians literally and metaphorically live on a planet no one has ever been. One will be amazed to find the truth through a careful study of their attitude and way of life in this austere time and in comparison to other climes. Without prejudice, what it means to hold a political office in Africa is of little or no service to the society. Theirs only centers on the individual politicians and their political parties. That is why it is up to the media to continue to put government and its officials on their toes. Therefore, Nigerians are saying no to hate speech bill.
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