The Hate Speech and social media bills being proposed by the National Assembly has been described as a misplaced priority, considering other pressing needs of Nigerians.
The Director of Social Communication Commission, Catholic Diocese of Osogbo, Reverend Father Francis Idowu, stated this during a programme organised by Justice, Development and Peace Makers Centre on the theme ‘Freedom of Expression and Speech Regulations in Nigeria’ in commemoration of International Human Rights Day 2019.
The cleric stressed that instead of the lawmakers dwelling on Hate Speech and social media bills, they should rather “deploy their elective energies towards addressing issues that will directly translate into the welfare and the wellbeing of the people.
“The proposed bills remain a misplacement of priority, considering the pressing needs of Nigeria as a country,” Reverend Idowu stated.
In the same vein, the keynote speaker, Mr Femi Adefila, a veteran broadcaster, stated that “free speech is a basic fundamental human right enshrined in the Nigerian constitution,” insisting that “any attempt to muzzle, gag and obstruct the highway of speech must be resisted by all and sundry.”
Adefila, who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of radio station Rave FM, Osogbo, emphasized that the country was facing multifarious economic and other challenges ranging from insecurity to unemployment and poverty that required freedom of speech and understanding by the government to tackle.
“The amount of energy being deployed on social media and Hate Speech bill by government, if channeled to the economy, will boost it tremendously.
“We are seemingly the poverty headquarters of the world. We are only rich in potentials that are not tapped. Limiting the rights of people and muzzling the civic and media space hinder people from manifesting their potentials and talents that they would have contributed to nation building,” he stressed.
“We can only arrive at an el dorado if there is a communication between the governed and government. It is only when rulers listen to the ruled that they can understand their problems and feelings,” he said.
“I am not an apostle of Hate Speech, neither am I a proponent of the impunity that some people are orchestrating on the social media. But I believe that there can be regulations within the purview of the law.
“We have enough laws in our statutes to take care of those who willingly cause infractions in the social media to attack targets.
“What we can also do is to go to the providers of these platforms as is being done in saner climes like America, invite them to a round table and draw their attention to any impunity perpetrated on their platform and impose a fine if it is not controlled. This is even a way of making money.
“There is no need for a bill gagging the media space. If the leaders would allow us to express ourselves freely and they listen to us, it will be a good mechanism to know what we are doing rightly or wrongly.
Fascism creeps in when the media space and freedom of expression are obstructed.
“Democracy makes people to be free, but if we are no longer free, then there can’t be constitutional democracy.
“We can only be in democracy if we are allowed to enjoy freedom of speech, religion, association, etc.
“These are fundamental human rights that I don’t believe any congress should legislate against,” Adefila stressed.
Reverend Idowu further expressed worry that passage of the bills would spell many implications on the church as a prophetic preacher of the gospel, the average Nigerians who live in a democratic setting and possess the right to air their views as well as the media who are the purveyors of news.
“The motive sounds palatable and favourable, but it must be considered a slippery issue that is pregnant with lots of intricacies. Like other bills, they have got their implications for the rulers and the ruled,” he said.
On what the legislators should do instead of emphasis on the controversial bills, the cleric noted: “One would expect the legislators to direct the arrowheads of their discredited bills on more productive ventures like enacting laws to tackle the dilapidated health infrastructure, collapsed education system, poverty, crimes, unemployment, corruption and terrorism in the country.