More flamboyantly than the start of it, the incumbent Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is combatting inflammatory statements in the last few weeks.

Having spent more than two years in governance, the government has now interestingly figured out that some statements, all in the name of criticisms or in the sake of protecting the interest of some groups, have crossed the national redlines. For this singular reason, the government activated the capacity of security apparatus ranging from Police, Army to checkmate and control the words uttered and comments launched by Nigerian citizens especially on social media sphere. To buttress, the Vice-President of Nigeria, who also is a professor of Law, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo declared that hate speeches will heneforth be termed act of terrorism in accordance to the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011.

Once a soldier, always a soldier. Likewise, a barrister at law should remain as such irrespective of the appointed cadre anytime. That a lawyer will raise a brow against a particular form free speech can be expressed becomes more attention-seeking, in that legal practitioners are not expected to make errors in issues regarding individual’s liberty. Of a truth, when President Muhammadu Buhari spoke in national broadcast after his over 100 days to London, the one good topic he emphasized was on Nigeria’s Unity – not being negotiable. Apart from this topic, the President sounded more military than a democratic leader that he is.

In the President’s word: Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far.

It sounded like the infamous quote of a African dictatorial leader, Idi Amin: ‘Freedom of speech I can guarantee but, I cannot guarantee freedom after speech’, in its interpretation.

Similarly, Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo during his acting capacity drew the line on hate speech when He said: “Hate speech is a specie of terrorism. The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended defines
terrorism as an act which deliberately done with malice which may seriously harm a country or is intended or can be reasonably be regarded as having been done to seriously intimidate a population.”

The question is; to what extent can freedom of speech be enjoyed democratically before it is pronounced as a hate speech?

A democratic set-up – a typology of the Nigerian case – gives provisions for the expression of the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, Movement and the likes. So, by the guided standard, one can belong to a political party on a matter of choices; one can speak out when there’s such need either in words or writings. Significantly, hate speeches have their roots in the association one belong – a relation to how freedom of association can be expressed. The divergent political parties cannot to disconnected from what people say about/against the government. This however should not be curbed in spite of the relevance in multi-plurality of political parties. Oppositions and freedom of speech are basic ingredients of democracy that should never be restrained because they keep the government on toes to provide the dividend of democracy to the citizenry as well as checkmate excesses in governance.

A report published in The Economist, a renowned UK-based Magazine in May, 2017 stated that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. Data is the indispensable commodity strengthening the fastest- growing industries – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, which the Nigerian Government is attempting to shrink the growing tides, in a way. That the Government will monitor the social media comments might be a dead end. Why? The source – ‘Data economy’ cannot be shrinked in the name of curbing hate speeches. Education can undoubtedly guide/train the minds of youths on how the internet is responsibily used.

The major problem that paved way for hate speeches is simply the gap in communication. An instance is on the purported news on President Muhammadu Buhari’s death – a rumor abroad made rounds in the media when details regarding the health of the president became shrouded in secrecy.

Rather than waging war against the use of social media, the Government should channel its efforts aright and see to national development as much as these progresses are meticulously communicated to the populace. The good works will speak for itself irrespective of efforts and criticisms to water them down. When citizens’ sustenance and development are maximizally ensured, they will, with no sponsors, become the heralds of the laudable activities of the government even while some speak of the contrary.

Aside, the Federal Government launched the Federal Government of Nigeria Information App (FGNIAPP), in December, 2016 with the purpose of informing citizenry about the activities of the Government, as described by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed.

In December, 2016, the minister stressed that: “The activities of the present administration is hugely under-reported, hence the need to align with the global trend in information sharing. The government is doing so much yet people keep saying they do not know because we are not communicating through the right channel. hence the new app will bridge the gap by using the social media to tell the world what thegovernment is doing.”

Why then do we intend monitor social media comments when we can set aright the minds of many through this same right channel? It’s unfair to be strict on what Nigerians comment about the government while we made alive a platform to cheer the praises of this same government only. It’s my belief and of sincere opinion, that instead of waxing strength on how to make purveyors of hate speeches pay for the so-called crimes, the Government can track down the illspoken comments and compare the ironies in them with what actually are the realities within the polity, through the FGNIAPP. Juxtaposition of the ironies and realities will vindicates more effectively than any other methodology.

Hate speeches will not strive when the good deeds are visibly seen by Nigerians. No one will be gullible to believe lies when there are facts.

Our correspondent: Ogunjobi Gabriel Ayodeji

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