Sowore & Co: Matters Arising

Pt 2: On the Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill

This is not a unique case as the federal government, like a child, has developed an insatiable appetite for the court orders to obey and the ones to disregard. These developments are most unsavoury and mark a new low in our democratic journey.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” This quote by Elie Wiesel comes in very handy in describing the present time in Nigeria. It is really a time when the power of the citizen is being clamped upon. The citizens are aware of this and have resorted to protesting against everything the government of the day is doing to make life more miserable for the masses of the people. When sacrifices have to be made, the citizens are the ones who pay the price for the incompetence of those who are supposed to provide security and promote their welfare.

This is not an appraisal of the performance of the government as that would be raised in a subsequent discourse. It is mainly about the government’s lacklustre commitment to the rule of law. In an ideal democratic set-up, which ours should by now have developed to be, peaceful demonstrations (protests) to disapprove of injustice perpetrated by the government should be the ideal in a democracy but not in Nigeria, or so it has now appeared. When a group of protesters showed up at the DSS headquarters some days ago to express their displeasure at the continued detention of Omoyele Sowore, there was a frenzy. Some DSS operatives teargassed and shot at the protesters in an effort to dispel the crowd of people who only carried placards with the inscriptions ‘Free Sowore Now’. The gathering was to protest the federal government’s continuous and flagrant refusal to obey a court order to release him on bail; the same court order they sought to detain him in the first place.

This is not a unique case as the federal government, like a child, has developed an insatiable appetite for the court orders to obey and the ones to disregard. These developments are most unsavoury and mark a new low in our democratic journey. It becomes most disturbing when it appears as soon as you hold an unpopular opinion, you have somewhat committed a crime. Almost every day, at every interaction on social media, there is a ‘Free-Somebody-Now’ campaign each drawing thousands on disapproving comments on the approach the federal government has adopted in accommodating opinions it considers as dissenting. This is also the case with demonstration posters, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory. When citizens no longer feel safe to air their reasonable views for fear of intimidation, that society cannot be said to be a thriving democracy.

So far, the attitude of the government has been markedly care-free. What is most insulting is that some government agencies, including the DSS, put people forward to defend and justify this democratic misnomer. How unfortunate! It is more so unfortunate when one considers the fact that the government boast of seasoned legal practitioners who should know better.

With all of the unsavoury developments emanating from the detention of journalists to flouting of court orders in releasing those detained, on bail, the government certainly cannot expect Nigerians of goodwill to keep quiet in the face of what is shaping up as tyranny. This is one of the times we must not fail to protest.

The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. With what we have currently, this cannot be the Nigeria for which our heroes past laboured. It cannot be the country that many paid and are still paying the ultimate price to defend.

In the midst of all of these quandaries, what should be the deepest concerns for the government are the anti-democratic precedences being set and the message being sent to the world. That we’re a nation without scruples; not knowing what passes as wrong or right; that we couldn’t care less about human rights talk less of promoting it. Again, I must asseverate that if this is the fruit of the labour of our heroes past, then their labour has clearly been in vain. We must not keep silent about this.

At this juncture, we must turn right, do some introspection and reorder our steps as a nation. These are not the best times and, in my opinion, it is further worsened by the president’s silence like nothing is happening. The President must accept responsibility for this misnomer and do the needful. As the father of the nation, his voice must the loudest in the defence of a Nigeria where citizens feel free to be Nigerians. His voice and actions must also be the most pronounced wherever the rule of law is concerned.

We can’t have a society of yes-citizens; people who cannot think and accede to everything. Government, on the other hand, must be open to criticisms and a variety of opinions. As one legend put it, any government that is ‘not ready to stomach the railings of the people and is only concerned in their occasional hallelujahs is not fit for leadership.’

Back to the case, the DSS has advanced so many reasons for its refusal to release Sowore most of which lack substance and do not make sense even to those giving the excuses. Nigerians would continue to protest until the right thing is done. In the end, this is not about the person of Omoyele Sowore but a call for the federal government to uphold the rule of law in this case and in similar ones. The time is still there to right the wrongs. I hope that the relevant authorities would be not impervious to reason and the rule of the law.

On the Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill

The other day, I watched Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the sponsor of the ‘Anti-Hate Speech’ bill defending his proposal for the establishment of the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech. While I agree with a few points he raised, I hold the view that in totality, the bill is both needless and untimely. I advise that the honourable senator and his colleagues should apply the same passion to introduce the weighty deterrence being proposed in the bill to politicians who are found guilty of corruption. That would send a resounding signal to Nigerians who are losing faith in the National Assembly.

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© 2020 Samuel Akinnuga.