By ANIEBO NWAMU
In recent years, some of my friends have relocated to Europe or North America along with their family members. When another longstanding friend hinted he would be migrating to America soon, I tried to discourage him as I did other friends.
“You’re making a mistake,” I told Udinny, a university teacher, as we chatted on WhatsApp recently. “We die here, failed economy or not.” I explained to him how, in 2006, I had won the American Visa Lottery but turned down the offer because I didn’t want to go into slavery by consent.
“It’s not just the failed economy,” he replied. “It’s about failed governance, failed values. Haven’t you heard the debate in the Senate about sentencing people to death for hate speech, in a democracy? Nigeria is becoming more suffocating.”
There’s no denying I’ve heard and read about the abominable thing happening in the Nigerian Senate. As many media users have become more enraged, some senators have tried to pin the crime to the person who proposed the bill. No one should believe the cowardly lawmakers.
By proposing a bill meant to curtail freedom of expression and get innocent people hanged, the Senate is committing the very crime it is legislating against. Nothing better exemplifies a hate speech than these words written by an idiotic senator and read by another moronic senator: “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, commits an offence, if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria…”
We shouldn’t dignify the idle lawmakers with criticisms of the bill seeking to establish a “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches”, and which was sponsored both in the 8th and 9th Senate by one Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North). It’s ironic that his name is “Sabi” [Pidgin for “to know”] — he is the very antithesis of a knowledgeable person.
My guess is that the purveyors of these satanic verses do not mean to pass any anti-hate speech legislation. Among other motives, they seek to keep the National Assembly busy for several months in order to justify the jumbo pay they enjoy. It’s also likely they just want to create jobs for some privileged idlers – many commissions are useless and merely serve as drainpipes for the oil wealth extracted from under the soil of the Niger Delta. A third motive could be that the cabal now running Nigeria (not including the president) first wants the bill passed by the National Assembly and then denied presidential assent at a time the cabal might decide to whip up sentiments for a third term in office. “See, we’re for freedom, you know,” they would crow.
Some senators trying to distance themselves from the bill and Nigerians’ wrath have not told us whether there will be a vote on the bill. Any vote for it is a hate action and a hate speech put together; the penalty should be to strip the offender, spray pepper on their genitals and then hang them from a tree occupied by soldier ants.
There would be no cause for alarm if the rule of law had any place in the country. Perhaps, the judiciary’s role is to interpret the law; but a cash-and-carry judge won’t care to know what other people would feel, if the definition of “hate speech” were left for them to decide. Illiterates and criminals have since invaded the temple of justice.
Yet, there is nothing new about a piece of legislation seeking to gag the press and abridge free speech in Nigeria. The Penal Code still contains penalties for sedition, slander and libel. What may be new is the “death sentence” clause being flaunted by some depraved politicians.
No such law can be enforced anywhere except in a nation with morally bankrupt leaders. Empowered by an anti-hate speech law, persecutors might go after a few enemies, but a problem might follow and make them beat a retreat. Otherwise, I don’t see anyone in Nigeria with the technical skills to detect hate speech in the digital age. Those distracting us don’t have the technology to monitor users of social media. They have been unable to defeat terrorists; is it “hate speakers” they can defeat in cyberspace?
There may be truth in the rumour concerning a plot to turn Nigeria into a fascist state where nobody would dare to speak against evil or ask questions. Journalists are familiar with “See no evil and hear no evil. Don’t bark and don’t bite.”
The conspirators are old-fashioned, however. Centuries ago, authoritarian regimes existed. None succeeded in preventing people from expressing their feelings. The fools refuse to learn that, even in Nigeria, all those who sought a life presidency failed to realize their dream. How do old, mentally unbalanced conservatives hope to cage millennials who were born and have grown on the internet?
Of all the troubles currently drowning the country, what the Nigerian Senate prioritizes is a commission to prohibit hate speeches. Not a commission to prohibit nepotism and terrorism. Not one to arrest poverty or unemployment. And not one to quench corruption in high places that has ensured lack of power supply, lack of clean water, lack of medical care and lack of patriotism.
Hate speech or hate action – which is deadlier? It’s hate action for a senator who yells “nay” or “yes” once a month to receive N20m while his teacher gets N70, 000. It’s hate action for ministers and lawmakers to send their children to foreign schools and receive treatment abroad while they leave Nigerian schools and hospitals in ruins. It’s hate action to defend criminals against their victims.
Let Lai Mohammed and his co-trumpeters demonstrate seriousness about their beloved bill so it could become law soon. In fact, it should take retroactive effect, as General Buhari’s decrees of 1984 did, so that agents of despotism would be the first to be hanged. It should take effect from, say, 2010. All the APC goons who used hate speeches and hate actions to oil their propaganda machinery pre-2015 would get the rope. Or, do the hate speakers of yesteryear want their own sins forgotten?
The current APC government climbed to power on the back of “hate speech”. Someone said monkeys and baboons would be soaked in blood after an election, and truly over 1, 000 Nigerians were murdered after the election of 2011. Someone promised to make Nigeria ungovernable. Some people allegedly invited a terrorist group to the country just to create a bad impression about a legitimate government. Some people organized the abduction of schoolchildren and turned to receive ransoms paid from the public till. Some supposed government officials still sit at a conference table with terrorists who have killed over 30, 000 Nigerians.
What did the propagandists not say about the Jonathan government? Under this same regime, some northern riffraff, obviously sponsored, gave southerners three months to leave the north. The southeast became the playground for “python dance”, leading to the massacre of unarmed civilians; at the same time Boko Haram was controlling a northern territory unchallenged.
I promised Udinny that the laughable bill won’t get passed eventually and that, whatever happens, we would be here to fight the despots. I need to edit that pledge: Were it in my power now, I would cause the legislature to pass the anti-hate speech bill and secure presidential approval as soon as possible. That would be a quick way to spark a revolution in this country. Everyone would be united in chasing away the “vagabonds in power” [thanks Fela].
Selective justice has been the hallmark of Nigerian public functionaries – it was further demonstrated in no little way during the Bayelsa and Kogi polls of last weekend — and it has worked for them thus far. They have kept tightening the noose on Nigerians most of whom have now become hopeless. Now, the water has reached the necks of nearly all compatriots. A little push, just a little push, is needed to produce a conflagration.