Nigeria’s National Assembly is the bastard of Nigerian democracy—and that’s putting it mildly.
Now, “bastard” is a historically hateful word, and should not be applied to fellow humans. But, I have used it here to convey the intensity of the National Assembly’s disregard for both the wishes of the Nigerian people and the values of democratic government.
First: consider this very anti-democratic idea. A few days ago, the Senate proceeded to the second reading of “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith” sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, an APC Senator from Kebbi State. I am yet to see a copy of this bill but, from the copious reproduction in this newspaper report, it appears to be the most autocratic piece of junk ever to walk into the National Assembly and demand to be a law.
Actually, it would be comic if it weren’t monstrously terrifying.
Just ponder its provisions: the bill recommends a jail term of two years or a fine of N2,000,000 or both for any person who:
“through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post[s] 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….”
In simple English, this means you are going to jail for tweeting or texting any criticism. Who determines the falsity of the statement? A judge—after you have been arrested—along with the social and financial implications of this––of course.
And for those who like submitting petitions in the newspaper, or to the EFCC and other agencies, the bill further attempts to curb enthusiasm by stating that:
“Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.”
But if your “head is strong”, and you are bold enough to print or publish the petition without a sworn affidavit accompanying it, you will also face imprisonment of up to two years.
Where is the democracy in all these?
Well, according to Mr. Na’Allah, the bill is useful, basically, to prevent government time and resources from being wasted on frivolities.
This—this lamentation of an excuse—from a senator in a body that has spent most of its time accompanying people to court, arguing politics, indulging in Facebook training sessions, and launching suggestion boxes!
Democracy encourages legislation against clearly defined hate speech. Democracy frowns on tribal, ethnic, religious and other sectarian divisive speech. But democracy welcomes unfettered criticism of government and public officials. It is better that a few people speak falsely than that the majority of people are kept silent.
But, no, this Senate prefers to outlaw “any allegation…statement, petition…with malicious intent to discredit … institutions of government”.
This is not democracy. This is a mushrooming autocracy.
Second: let’s talk about representing Nigerians. Is this even a pertinent issue to Nigerians? In the midst of this fuel scarcity, Boko Haram killings, Middle-Belt violence, emerging Biafran crisis, and the usual economic, health, public welfare, education and other issues, this is what bothers the Senate? Or, have I missed a procession of Nigerians marching on the streets earnestly demanding the criminalisation of social media communications?
There is almost no need to argue this second point. There are a hundred issues that adversely affect the lives and welfare of Nigerians; real problems without any comprehensive solutions from the Senate.
I don’t know which school of democracy Mr. Na’Allah attended, or which Nigerians he thinks he is representing, but I am quite sure that any law on free speech that requires the police and jail cells to enforce it (instead of private individuals through litigation and arbitration systems) is meant for the benefit of the government only, and certainly not for the people.
And this is how the class system in Nigeria is perpetuated.
Madam Minister can make a statement on radio against a citizen and that’s fine. But a citizen who tries to make the same statement against the minister has to calculate how many nights he can survive in a Nigerian jail. Or when Ayo Sogunro feels insulted by a Senator on social media, can Ayo Sogunro call on the police to arrest the Senator under the signed bill? But, consider the consequences of the reverse scenario.
Yet, these consequences are real. In the last few months, we have seen a state governor, a Fidelity Bank director and a UBA bank director each order the arrest and imprisonment of journalists or critics under section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act, 2015 which says:
“Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that: (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
Apparently, this first attempt to suppress criticism has not been enough for the self-serving interests of our lawmakers. Hence, they have embarked on another voyage to repress human rights and liberty.
Look, Nigeria’s National Assembly is the bastard of Nigerian democracy—and I have no apologies if this causes you any annoyance, ill will or needless anxiety. I will repeat this point everywhere until our legislators learn to match their actions with the desires of Nigerians and the ideals of democracy.
But, they won’t, because that would mean limiting their own individual powers and privileges. You see, contrary to general opinion, these legislators know exactly what they are doing. These stupid laws are made by clever people—and it’s time we change that slogan from “Stop Electing Idiots” to “Stop Voting Like Idiots“.
Wrong people in power are not idiots. We are.
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