Editor's note: Femi D Amele, a multi-awards winning political journalist, and recipient of a doctorate in conflict management, writes on the thin line between free speech and hate speech especially as government officials focus on the clampdown on fake news.
Laws guide society towards development and sometimes they can be ingeniously formulated as a guard to keep the system of society and its citizens from embarking on democratic adventures. The debate on hate speech and freedom of speech is revolving with a new sense of urgency to define, revise, interpret, examine and even prohibit what can be said; to whom it can be said; when it can be said and where it can be said.
In a country attempting to practice democracy meaningfully, it must be ready to contend with vulgar and vague instructive and intrusive voices from its constituents including leaders, citizens, and multilateral partners.
The 21st-century democratic leaders in Nigeria, United States, and the United Kingdom among others are battling to interpret and caress its populace on effectively supporting its policy without objectifying its approach to governance. In Nigeria attempts by political leaders to proffer divergent meaning of the constitutional mandate of its citizen to be ‘entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference…’ as the Nigerian constitution informs in section 39 of the trusted laws lingers on.
On October 1, 2019, President Buhari’s Independence Day address conditioned the terms of freedom of expression as “…whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our national security, we will take firm and decisive action.”
Few days on the minister of information, Lai Mohammed embarked on giving the modalities of public discussion relying heavily on broadcasting policies, nation security mandates and cybercrime laws in an attempt to reform what can be said; to whom it can be said; when it can be said and where it can be said.
Experimental conversations on the revolution by activists such as Omoyele Sowore as led legal minds to determine the quality of human rights protection laws and national security concerns on potential upturning a sitting government.
With a population of about 200 million people made of 60 % youths, it’s imperative to assume that this is a talking nation of young people. Young people have unreserved views and blunt opinions on an entertainment show to political governance. Will you believe me if I told that the perception system of young people is hinged on strongly that the news and governance is a twisted reality show?
The social engagement for real news and simulated stories emphasis an evolving pop-culture to embracing the news with a sense of humor and embarrassment. The freedom of expression via social media handles of political thought influencers is going away, leaving a few heroes with short talk span to charge a thought at the public to agree too. The freedom to engage and start a new conversation on Nigerian governance has moved the scale of role disparity between influencers and respondents closer. Influencers are significantly moving towards starting topical conversation subjects but cannot sustain the life cycle of the conversation solely and cannot guarantee where it goes next. The freedom to engage is producing many voices in a single conversation as speakers become the audience and the audience are the speakers.
The inconvenient factor perceived by the Nigerian government in the freedom to engage in an endearing feature of combining the freedom of speech, hate speech and actionable remarks.
Attention is a millennial currency
Attention to success stories is what the Nigerian government, wants from a citizen to appreciate without disputing its authenticity. It is truly what every government in the world wants; the act of a listening citizen with whisper responses.
The absence of social engagement contracts on political conversations such as corruption, abuse of power and the easy of affirming social media status is a coffin for public discussion.
The Nigerian government in August 2018 made attempts to explain through its ministers the attributes of reforming various Nigerian institutions, a forum for public discussion with a suspicious simulation of questions and answer time. The government town hall meeting had morbid looks, the questions on the street were outshining the unremitted answers of the day on poverty, economic growth, and political maneuvers.
Popular government answers in 2018 include;
‘Spending on the productive sector is the way out for Nigerian economy’ – Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing
‘This process will not show immediate results but we will continue to show the pathway of where are headed’ – Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Mines and Steel
‘We are reviving ranches and providing grazing reserves across the country’ – Audu Ogbeni, Minister of Agriculture.
Attempted answers to the bullying questions of Nigerians at the time and now could be anything including hate speech. The sociological values of Nigerians are evolving faster than advisory and supporting roles desired from citizens by the government.
The freedom to engage objectively is a rare attribute for a 21st country with/without informed or misinformed citizens in a quadratic debate of rights and wrong. The strength to converse is beyond opinion perceived as criminal behavior to publish any material considered embarrassing or against the interests of the government as with article 4 of the military decree of 1984 in Nigeria.
Should the Nigerian government be tolerant in understanding social commentary from bystanders’ commentators, men, and women who would cheer for a societal fight without participating; or may use the secret security officers to nudge incidental or accidental commentaries by citizens and just may attack the side effects of freedom to engage?
I believe no society exists on a balance of conversation but tolerance; tolerance on the clarity of laws and acknowledgment of human rights actions.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.
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