“I would rather prefer a society without government than a government without press.” These were the immutable words of history by John F. Kennedy, Former president of the United States of America and an Apostle of free Press.
John was a freedom of speech campaigner and a major voice canvassing the inculcation or retention of same in the constitutional frame-work of different countries across the globe. A crusade many have accepted, and yet treated as an aberration by others.
In Nigeria for example, following the passage of freedom of information bill (otherwise known as the FOI bill) into law by the legislature and it’s subsequent appendage and accent by the Presidency a few years back, Nigeria now joins the league of Nations enjoying free access to information with dignity.
But even before the legislative landmark of passage of FOI bill into law in Nigeria was recorded, the country’s citizenry have for years immemorial, enjoyed unalloyed and unfettered Freedom of speech and freedom to hold opinions as the practices have always formed parts of our laws of 1999.
So we have always lived like birds of the air In terms of free speeches, leading to the summarization by a school of thought that “Nigeria experiences the freest kind press-Freedom across the world.”
This is more so as evidences abound of how fellow Nigerian-Citizens bamboozle one another with life-threatening words and statements capable of throwing spanners in our collective existence on a daily basis without been arrested or prosecuted by the security Agencies.
Of a fact and truism, Nigerians will recall with nostalgia, how previous elections here were laced with hate Speeches and life threatening words by the political actors, whose vulgar and unguarded languages before, during and after elections intimidate us into electing them into power.
Without been misquoted and for the records, We have for umpteenth times heard statement such as “I will make Nigeria ungovernable” just as we have heard another of its ilk such as “both the monkey and the baboon will be soaked with blood.”
And So, what are we not saying? And someone is yet, jittery or averse over the comments by the former Acting President of Nigeria, and now vice president that from now and henceforth, hate Speeches will now be seen and treated as “treason and terrorist acts.”
Recently and most worrisomely, we have also come to be inundated with quit notices, war songs and it’s eventual backing by supposed elders who ought to be saddled with the responsibility to guide and guard the Nation with impunity.
And I ask and stand to be challenged: what is wrong with the above statement on hate speeches as tongues are already wagging on its propriety and essence? Or is the policy statement not meant to protect us, the vulnerable?
What is wrong with Nigerians and When are we going to learn from the sand of history? It is disheartening we have, so soon forgotten the danger and a near-grave-crashing the APC and the PDP contest of 2015 subjected us to, following hate speeches.
So we have forgotten how this Nation was shaken to its very foundation while the strings holding us together were fatally destroyed on the alter of hate speeches, because we came out of 2015 stronger?
Verifiably and most certainly, the freedom of speech granted to Nigerians have been subjected to gross abuses and trepidation. It has been torn apart and transmuted as well as transfigured into hate speeches and life threatening opinions.
But “the freedom of speech is not a freedom to Licentiousness,” apologies to Prof. Stella Okunna; former head of Department, Mass communication department, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra and author of the classic – “Laws and ethics of mass communication.”
In mass Communication, my area of jurisdiction, we were once told in the class room by this quintessence that as sacrosanct, constitutional and legal as our opinion-pieces and statements are, we must be mindful of the bottlenecks of libel, sedition, inversion of privacy and disclosure of official secret acts.
And I ask again: why then the mounting oppriobrium and brouhaha over an attempt by the government to tame the monster before it turns to kill all of us? HATE SPEECH is neither a breakfast, tea-party nor a launch. It is a monster.
There must, therefor, be a defined line between politics and conscientious articulation here. People must stand in defense of the sanctity of their whole and total existence.
We must lean and internalize for good that provocative speeches are not aid-memoir to us in any guise. It came to tear us apart and consume every remaining ingredients of our collective existence. This must be stopped by all means before it is too late.
Gwiyi Solomon writes from Enugu.