“There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he is in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.” - Theodore Roosevelt in “The man with the Muck-rake.”
The spur-of-the-moment bill, which seeks to “prohibit frivolous petitions intended to report the conduct of any person of an investigation, inquiry or inquest without a duly sworn affidavit” would hasten our nation into the fold of closed societies. The bill looks harmless on the surface and sensible in its content, for it portrays the senators as individuals who are all out to sanitize a crassly polluted society.
Titled: “A bill for an act to prohibit frivolous petitions, and other matters connected therewith,” section 3(3) reads: “Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio, or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the published against any person or group of persons, institutions of government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment term of two year or a fine of N4, 000,000,00.”
In 3(4), it says: “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2, 000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
Sponsored by one Ibn Na’Allah, who claims the “social media nuisance in this country is outrageous,” the bill is backed by almost - if not - all of the lawmakers for they claimed the social media has become a platform where Nigerians damage their reputations. One wonders what reputation the lawmakers have for even the unborn knows that the Nigerian senate and by extension, the House of Representatives remain as an unfortunate reminder of a foundational rot in leadership recruitment in Africa; their corruption, a blemish on everything democracy stands for; their worldview, fashioned in the constricting boundary of pockets and stomachs; and their blatant undermining of the laws of the land presents them as persons that are neither fit to rule themselves not to mention making laws to shape the present and future of a nation so in need of visionaries and selfless characters.
The irony is why Nigerians who yearn for a media devoid of lies and propaganda would frown on such a bill. Let’s turn to the United Nations for an answer. Below is an excerpt of the 2012 address of President Barack Obama at the United Nations General Assembly on his views on the violence instigated by an anti-Islam video:
“Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense…As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day-- and I will always defend their right to do so.
“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.
“We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect…We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.”
It is in this light that Nigerians have come to see this nauseating bill as a reminder of the disconnect of our leaders from the modern world – an indication of a wedge between Nigerian leaders and the led, legislative despots on one side and the rest of us on the other, and between men who see no other way of proving their mettle in public service than to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle free speech under the cloak of national security and defamation of character - all in a bid to providing a leeway to their continued castration of the Nigerian project.
This unbearable senate seeks to nurture via this repugnant bill, a climate of political sluggishness, academic slothfulness, and institutional lethargy among the people who are already fed up with the nation’s politics of underdevelopment. They hope to sustain an atmosphere of cowardice in the intellectual parlance thus reducing Nigerians to zombies, and Nigeria into a country – not of brain and brawn, but a sheep republic - that wherein the led are made to be onlookers in their fatherland while the leaders ruthlessly acquire that which belong to them and others, without no one bold enough to raise an eyebrow.
It is disturbing that our politicians are breaking their necks to disconnect the voice of the masses in this age of information. Like the hypocrite who cowardly steals bread at dusk, they’ve rushed to treat the bill as though their lives depend on it.
Let the bill become law and you’ll be appalled by how far these roguish lawmakers will skillfully manipulate it to silence critics; as there is not a single one of them who does not have a case to answer to the people. The judiciary is still in a battle of wig and soul to remain afloat in the pool of insidious manipulations and whirlwind of machinations in the hands of the silly men and thick madams who call themselves politicians.
While the fine might take a toll on us for that which we were hitherto used to was the N50 we pay the policemen on the road, it smacks both reason and sense that Na’Allah’s bill threatens Nigerians with jail. What jail is the senate talking about? The only Nigerians not in jail are those in the land of the slave masters for if you’re Nigerian, you’re in jail.
The fact is that no one feels uncomfortable with the social media but the despot. “Now why is it that these Mad Dogs of the Middle East are toppled?” asked Abdullah Faisal in his speech: The Mad Dogs of the Middle East. “The internet changed the way people think. Don’t you know that…so you can’t control how people think anymore. Gadhafi could get away with oppressing the people before the internet came on the scene. Now that Mad Dog in the Middle East, Ben Ali, his people started a movement on Facebook and they call it the Revolution of Facebook – he was toppled by Facebook… Don’t you know that, he was toppled by Facebook? They started a movement on the internet – on Facebook - to criticize his government…Hosni Mubarak was toppled by Facebook as well.”
The lawmakers should relax and go take a cup of pap as they have nothing to fear. Facebook only topples the economic leeches, oppressors and tyrants.
Unless they are, the bill which Oby Ezekwesili labeled ‘Impossicant’ remains what it is: The hallucination of Na’Allah.
Modiu Olaguro, a youth corps member teaches mathematics at Jebba.