By James Sunday
For those of you who have visited the Nigerian National Assembly, the first thing that might catch your attention is the array of luxury cars, lavishly dressed legislators surrounded by the bayonets and truncheons of their police and other bodyguards. yet in their hearts, there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken by Nigerians, thoughts stirring at their constituencies and this terrify them. A little mouse of thought expressed or opinion regarding their poor performance appears in the social sphere, and even the mightiest potentates among them are thrown into panic. Such is the situation on our hand with the anti-social media bill.
I’d like to continue on the note that freedom of speech does not protect anyone from the consequences of saying stupid things or propagating fake news and that is why we, as a nation of laws, have existing legal and judicial framework that deals with that.
Haven said that, I will now move to the crux of this discourse. A lot has been said about the anti-social media bill being considered by “our National Assembly” the emphasis I gave to our national assembly is to the effect that in real sense, the parliament ought to be the cradle of democracy where we expect good legislations for good governance of the country. However, the best Nigerians could get from its National Assembly is a legislation that is fraught with both latent and manifest intentions to limit free speech, gag citizens and muzzle the opposition.
The fundamental question is that how can we trust a government that fails to respect legitimate court orders to regulate a vehicle through which citizens exercise their rights to free speech? At a very critical moment in our democratic history, is the social media bill the best of legislation we should expect from our parliament or have they forgotten that Legislation in itself is corrupt when it is strictly self-serving and not driven to serve the best interests of its people?
I hold the belief that if liberty means anything at all in a democracy; it means the right to tell the government what they do not want to hear especially when things are going south. And yes! Things are going south. Now we have on our hand a legislation that has all the tendencies to overthrow our liberties and catapult us into the abyss of totalitarianism. This they are trying to achieve by subduing the freeness of speech and if it is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. Karma is bitch, and considering the transient nature of power, even the proponents of this draconian law might later be at the receiving end if it sees the light of the day but I do not expect that it does. History has since given us that hindsight and who knows what will happen when tomorrow comes?
An APC chieftain was recently quoted in the media to have said, “No doubt, our country deserves a strong and vibrant opposition to play its conventional role in the polity and to deepen democracy” he went further to say that there is no opposition in Nigeria because the PDP who ought to play this role are engaging in frivolities. That is a possibility. But the truth of the matter is that this government is not open to criticism or alternatives. They shut down dissenting voices and muscle the opposition under guise of anti-corruption war. You disagree with them or criticize their ideas and they come after you. Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates an environment where everyone lives in fear. This to me is the subterranean intendment of the antisocial media bill. They want to silent us
The anti-social media bill is a negation of the United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Right which holds that “ Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The key word here is “without interference”
In the Jonathan Era created a safe space for people to air the views and opinion without fear or favor. This helped deepened our democratic process because there where many alternatives to government policies. Now, however, everyone is scared. Opposition parties during the Jonathan Era held a lot of divisive opinion that were roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly some that were demonstrably nonsense! The “Jonathan is training snipers and killer squad” saga et al. #InsideLife
As I Nigerian, I am saying, we , as citizens need a safe space to criticize our government and point out it failings as well as provide alternative. The Social media bill should have no place in a democratic society. Make no mistake about it. Any attempt to regulate or gag free speech in disguise under this obnoxious bill is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. It is a travesty on the idea of democracy.
Rather than to demonize the social media and criminalizing citizens for using it in an era when Web 2.0 applications are rapidly transforming citizen-citizen and citizen-government interactions in a manner not seen before, it is rather pertinent for the government to take a very close look at Web 2.0 and online communities in order to leverage them for designing products and services and for providing citizen services. The government should provide good governance and they will not have to worry about hate speech or whatever reason for which it is attempting to regulate the social media when other climes are already enhancing government operations via the social media.
We have only today to stand in one accord and resist this bill. If tomorrow comes, our mute indifference and cold complicity will only remind us of our irreversible mistakes.
James, a Humanitarian journo writes from Kaduna.