IN the past few weeks, both the parliament and the executive arm of government have been making frantic attempts to curtail freedom of speech and rein in the media. While the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, has been persistent in his advocacy for strict control of the social media, two senators from Nasarawa State, Sani Musa and Sani Abdullahi, have sponsored what has come to be known as the anti-hate speech bill, vowing to see that it becomes a law eventually.
The bill was resurrected after failing to make it through in the eighth Senate and after President Muhammadu Buhari had threatened to take firm and decisive action against the promoters of ‘hate speech.’ It is certainly right up his alley, seeing that this is a recap of his military tenure’s trademark. Mr. Buhari certainly does not pretend that he could function maximally in a free and liberal democracy despite his pre-electoral claim of being a converted democrat. Political observers are not wrong in their thinking that with the legislature as presently constituted, he just might be able to get approval for his every dream and imagination. And since this is his final term of office, it is up to civil society organisations and genuine progressives to stop this democracy from morphing into a fascist state.
A cursory look at the bill would show the murderous intent of its sponsors. It recommends death by hanging for perpetrators of the so-called ‘hate speech’ and the establishment of a commission to monitor the administration of the law. It is shocking that any legislative institution would deliberate on a bill such as this, let alone schedule it for second reading. The fact that the country is still grappling with issues of critical concern such as economic growth and development, including how to reverse its crude infrastructure and nearly comatose health, education and manufacturing sectors, among others, only brings the awkward priorities of this administration into bold relief. Even the much touted zero tolerance for corruption by this administration seems to be suffering from lack of attention given the zeal currently being deployed in making the anti-hate speech bill to become a law.
The Nigerian people, who are still interested in the country becoming a lot more liberalised than it is now, have been apparently shocked by the audacious attempt to convert a democratically elected government into a totalitarian enterprise. It is certainly amazing that the kidnappers and bandits who are making life nasty, short and brutish in many parts of the country are not being given the death penalty, yet the so-called purveyors of hate speech are doomed to death already. Not only that; the bandits have a complete bureaucracy lined up to minister to them, collecting ransoms from the state.
There’s certainly more to the bill on hate speech than meets the eye. Could there be a hidden agenda or interests somewhere that remain unclear to the people? Could it be a political distraction to sway the people who have been deeply immersed in more expedient existential crises and have been failed by the government’s tardy responses?
To be sure, there are more pressing issues confronting the country than the hate speech bill. The government has more than enough to contemplate about in service delivery. Plotting to cow an already perplexed and miserable people into submission is not a good thing to do.