Our lawmakers never cease to amuse most Nigerians. Were the entire country a Muson centre of sort, perhaps, our lawmakers would readily fit into characters like Launcelot Gobbo or at best Falconbridge, the young baron, both interesting characters in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
Gobbo was a lowly person but who was somewhat proud and has a crude philosophy and a rude kind of wit exemplified in his use big words and misapplies them most ingenuously, he has a rather good nature, full of fun, and rejoices in a practical jest. Of course as the servant to Shylock, a wealthy Jewish merchant and money lender of Venice, with whom he lives and of whom he stands in wholesome awe, his fun-loving nature served to brighten the dull and dreary home of that stern and revengeful gentleman, a fact that Jessica, the Jew’s daughter, frankly acknowledges in her first interview with the boy.
As for the young baron, Falconbridge, he simply was as confused in thoughts, words and deeds as ever. The foregoing was underscored when as suitor desperate to win Portia’s hand in marriage he dressed, arrived and presented himself most awfully. Little wonder Portia did not hesitate to dismiss the young baron when she told her attendant, Nerissa thus:
You know I say nothing to him, for he understands not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian, and you will come into the court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English. He is a proper man’s picture, but, alas, who can converse with a dumb-show? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and hisbehaviour everywhere.
I would not know where Senator Ibrahim N’Allah got his inspiration from; but this one thing I know: his proposed Bill is largely seen as intended to muzzle the media. But it will be dead on arrival; or at best, have a still birth. I am not a social media freak by any description. But as a journalist, I am conversant with the relevant rights that such a Bill is out to muzzle.
At this age and clime, for a federal lawmaker to stroll into the hallowed Chamber of the Senate to sponsor a Social Media Bill proposing up to two years in prison or $10,000 (£6,000) fine or both for anyone disseminating via text message, Twitter, WhatsApp, or any other form of social media an “abusive statement,” is wickedness personified.
Whether N’Allah is trying to play the rude wittiness of Launcelot Gobbo while misapplying the mood in our democracy or he considers himself most suitable for the role of the young baron, Falconbridge by being so oddly suited, applying measures that only suited some intolerant military dispensation of in today’s democracy cannot be easily fathomed.
But this one I know: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states 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.”
Also, Chapter IV section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution says, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Like the very unpopular effort, the Bill was meant to be, the groundswell of opposition against N’Allah’s attempt is catching on across the land with not only journalists and civil society organisations protesting against it, but even the not-so-informed are kicking.
The reason is simple. In a dispensation where virtually every economic index that is impacting positively in other climes is giving adverse inferences in Nigeria with attendant poverty in the land alongside mutual distrusts from both the government and the governed, attempting to throw a gag on media practices here is unwelcome.
Which is why the protest yesterday by a coalition of Civil Society Organisations to the National Assembly asking for the discontinuation of the passage of the Bill must not be taken as an idle threat.
For effect, yesterday’s protesters say by criminalising free speech, the bill directly contravenes the universal declaration of Human Rights and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and demanded to meet with the leadership of the Senate to press home their demand.
The way I see it, the pledge by a delegation of the Senate that met with the protesters with a promise to present their demands to their members is not enough. As lawmakers who should be very conversant with the position of Nigeria’s Constitution and related anti-free speech laws elsewhere, the delegation should have been more categorical. They ought to have fallen back on the globally accepted position that freedom of expression and such relevant freedoms constitute the very foundation of any democracy, and reassuringly tell them that N’Allah’s Bill would be a Dead on Arrival. After all, common sense should have tutored them that any effort to hamper free speech would imply very serious damage to democracy.
The lawmakers ought to have seen the paradox in the Bill thus: during the last general elections, the APC effectively used social media to marshal their change agenda and incite Nigerians against the them ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. For one of them in the Senate to now turn around to sponsor a Bill to muzzle the same medium it used to sell dummies, half truths and a few truths to the electorate all for the goal to ousting the PDP from the centre and states speaks volumes of its intentions then, now and the future. And like some observers are already concluding, perhaps, the Party’s hierarchy is in the know about this Bill that is before a Senate that is majorly APC in an APC government. In which case we all, not just journalists, but all users of any social media platform must be headed for the era of Decree 4; dare the government and be sent to some gulag.
The reaction by President Muhammadu Buhari to the foregoing Monday to the effect that he would not assent to any legislation that is inconsistent with the nation’s constitution and the tenets of democracy is as timely as it is assuring.
Reiterating his administration’s commitment to the protection of free speech in keeping with democratic tradition, a statement by his media aide and a long time friend of mine, Garba Shehu stated that since Buhari has sworn to defend the constitution of Nigeria, he would not lend his hand to anything that is inconsistent with the constitution.
Furthermore, it was good to read that the President was fully aware of the public reservations about the proposed legislation as well as his assurance that there is no cause for alarm. And for emphasis, he said the President won’t assent to any legislation that may be inconsistent with the constitution of Nigeria.
I agree with my dear friend and believe him. But I must add the fear of fellow Nigerians that since a stitch in time can and should save nine, the earlier APC eggheads consult with the N’Allah’s in the Senate to drop this Bill, the healthier it will be for all. Allowing the Senate to first carry on with its processes on the Bill may mean a further heating up of the polity; a situation Nigeria does not need now.
What we need from the Senate, nay the National Assembly now are laws that make for good governance, public order, security, unity and progress. That Senate Social Media Bill must be stopped.