Hates Speech, Social Media Bill Claims Victim in Zamfara?

Zamfara State Governor, Mr. Bello Matawalle

Kayode Ajulo states that the arraignment of Ibrahim Danmaliki Gidan Goga before an Upper Shari’a Court for ‘insulting’ Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State leaves much to be desired

It is no news that Citizen Ibrahim Danmaliki Gidan Goga, a renowned Nigerian Journalist, human right activist, member of Forward with Buhari group, who was also a Commissioner for Information, special adviser to the Zamfara State Government and current spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, was on Tuesday harassed, humiliated and arrested before he was arraigned at the Upper Shari’a Court in Gusau over allegation of ‘insulting’ the Governor Bello Matawalle as well as a spurious allegation of inciting public disturbance.

Well, one would have thought that the Hate Speech and Social Media Bills and laws of such nature are weapons in the hands of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) but the instant case has proven otherwise as it is clear that politicians and political lackeys are hell bent on using the instrumentality of the law to muffle opposition at all cost and by all means.

At this juncture, it is imperative to hint that you can always tell the degree of freedom in a country from the tone and temperament of its press, the variety and diversity of its print and electronic media, and the array of voices on its air waves.

The disingenuous argument of Pro-Hate Speech and Social Media Bills advocates is that such laws should be put in place in the national interest.

What is apparent is that the phrase “in the national interest” is one of the most frequently evoked and most flagrantly abused expressions in Nigeria’s political dictionary.

Genuine national interest is a principle and practice based on justice and fairness to one and all. It more or less involves devotion to the idea and ideal of a nation, promotion of its sundry interests, defence of its territorial integrity and most importantly, cultivation of a sound stable standard of morality and accountability.

It is an idea which postulates the supremacy of the nation over the individual, while also recognizing the nation derives its power, legitimacy, even from its ability and readiness to protect the individuals who constitute it, its capacity for ensuring the existence of justice and equity. And in normal circumstances, “in the national interest” should mean “in the interest of the nation.”

The sad reality is that in our clime, what determines what national interest/security is, is who defines it.

The pertinent question to ask is what national interest is meant to be served by any laws or regulations which fasten a rope round the neck of the press and political activists. Who is pained by our right to think freely, talk freely, write freely, argue freely according to law, conscience and commonsense?

It is our belief that in a civilized and democratic society, aggrieved citizens have the right of speaking freely against or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government measures and policies.

In a democratic society, criticism of government no matter how scathing can never amount to hate speech, democracy is better built when dissidents are able to air their opinions without fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides for a Presidential system of government as the United States contains sections that guarantee the freedom of speech. Specifically, Section 39 of the 1999 CFRN as altered provides for the “right to freedom of expression and the press”. Subsection 1 of that section amplifies this further by stating that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information, ideas and opinions.

It goes further in Subsection 3 by stating that “nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-
(a) For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
(b) Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or Government security services or established by law.

The above provisions manifest a crystal clear position which is the fact that freedom of speech and some aspects of what is now termed “hate speech” are guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is unfettered save for the exceptions as provided under Section 39(3) of the CFRN as amended.

It is undoubted that the circumstances surrounding the harassment, humiliation, torture, arrest and prosecution of Ibrahim Danmaliki Gidan Goga who is a renowned journalist and political activist leaves so much to be desired. It is lucent that the actions of the Governor of Zamfara State, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) only amount to persecution of an opponent under the cloak of the law.

It is therefore imperative that Ibrahim Danmaliki Gidan Goga who is a family man with responsibilities be forthwith released and exculpated from any sort of allegations against him as same only amounts to political persecution under the instrumentality of draconian laws.

There is no gainsay that the resultant effects of passing these bills into laws would only put the Nigerian press in chains and the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and speech would further be muffled by the passage of such draconian laws.

It is pertinent to conclude with an ingenious quote from President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations in New York on 25 September, 2012 as follows:

“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”

Ajulo, an Abuja-based lawyer and rights activist writes for the Forward with Buhari Movement