In fulfilment of the Socratic dictum which says that an unexamined life is not worth living, I want to begin this piece by playing the devil’s advocate to the Hate Speech Bill sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, which is provoking scalding reactions within and outside the shores of Nigeria at the moment. And my peg for the advocacy is the detestable story that emanated from the Police Service Commission (PSC) recently.
PSC had announced the appointment and promotion of officers within the police force, one of which was the promotion of 14 commissioners to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG). They are Yunana Babas, Dan-Malam Mohammed, Mua’zu Zubairu Halilu, Rabiu Yusuf; Sanusi Nma Lemu, Ahmed Iliyasu, Mohammed Uba Kura, Zaki M. Ahmed and Gwandu Haliru Abubakar; the present CP, Jigawa State Command, Zama Bala Senchi; Bello A. Sadiq; Austin Iwero Agbonlahor; former CP, Kwara State Command, Lawan Ado, and the current Commandant Police College, Kaduna State, and Bashir Makama. More than half of them hail from the Northern part of Nigeria.
Also, a couple of days ago, chaos erupted between the police command and the PSC over allegation that the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, flouted the policy which spells out equitable requirements for each state of the federation to produce a police commissioner to head a state command. The situation right now is that some states of the north have four commissioners of police in four state commands while some other states cannot boast of even one. It is said that Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Aambra, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and Jigawa, do not have a single commissioner representative among the state command CPs.
The Hate Bill has courted anger, hatred, disdain and scalding remarks from Nigerians and her friends abroad who see it as an unmitigated disaster and an extension of the Muhammadu Buhari government’s believed bid to manacle Nigerians and throw them into the slammer for daring to criticize his administration. Some other mischievous analysts claim that it is a prelude to the rumoured transmutation into Third Term despotism by the president. Divided into 55 Sections, the Hate Speech Bill’s explanatory memorandum states that it was aimed at “promot(ing) national cohesion and integration by outlawing unfair discrimination, hate speeches…” among others.
I want to begin my advocacy from the provisions of Section 3 of the bill. The Section states inter alia: “For the purpose of this Act, a person discriminates against another person if on ethnic grounds, the person, without any lawful justification treats another Nigerian citizen less favourably than he treats or would treat other person from his ethnic or another ethnic group and/or that on grounds of ethnicity, a person puts another person at a particular disadvantage when compared with other persons from other ethnic nationality of Nigeria.” Section 4, which prohibits hate speech and Section 6, which prohibits ethnic or racial contempt, are specific on the ethnic component of hate speech. It thus goes without saying that protection of the sanctity of ethnicity is one of the obvious reasons for sponsoring this bill by Senator Abdullahi.
To begin with, we must ask some fundamental questions that may help us in the task of dissembling the hidden connotations of the bill. One of these is, what exactly drove Abdullahi to this alley? Put differently, what was Abdullahi thinking when he sought to draft the bill? Was it the state of mutual ethnic disdain and absence of mutual ethnic affection that exists today in Nigeria? Was it the massive ethnic hostility that was never recorded in Nigerian history that is at play today in Nigeria? We must allow these questions to detain us in the bid to interrogate the mind of the Senator. Only after downloading what lay atop his mind can we adequately articulate the purport of that bill.
I am particular about the state of Abdullahi’s mind because if indeed he was concerned about the level of hatred that Nigeria’s over 520 languages and many tribes have for one another, then we actually need a bill to keep us in check or else, we will be sprinting fast on the path of chaos, the like that the Hutus and Tutsis exhibited in Rwanda in 1994. The mutual recriminations, animosities and dislike on display in Nigeria today are such that they must be put in check forthwith for the sanity, as well as the health of Nigeria. These are even comparatively minute if placed side by side the way ethnic disdain plays out today under the Buhari government.
On a personal level, if I had ever promoted the ascendancy of an ethnic group over the other in Nigeria before now, my October, 2019 visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial made me apostate of that road. In one fell swoop and within the space of a hundred days, about a million people were martyred for the protection of the narrative that a tribe or a people, were more sophisticated, God-ordained and more God-endowed than the other. It is similar to the religious narrative that a religion is more acceptable to and more God-approved than the other or even the superiority of a culture and language over the other. These narratives have as their trappings intolerance, disrespect for the other human person and they are prospective tinder that can incinerate a huge number of such advocates and multiple others.
If the quest to stop Nigerians’ shuttle towards the road to Kigali – which is a pure route to massacre – was behind Abdullahi’s decision to sponsor that bill, what we may excuse and seek to permanently erase is the draconian wordings of its punishment, as well as its descent into an intention to criminalize free speech. Other than that, everything needs to be done to stop this metastasis of mutual peaceful relationship of tribes and ethnicities in Nigeria.
Let us be factual, as federalists have submitted, Nigeria is not a nation but a state of different nationalities. This is why scholars have advocated that only a true practice of federalism can rescue the country from these obvious manifestations of cracks and antipathies. It is however obvious that every attempt to unitarize an obviously federal make-up like Nigeria will continue to push the country on the path of Kigali.
If the truth must be told, our forefathers legitimized those hate speeches that promoted mutual hatreds of one tribe over the other. The three regional governments made effete the effects of that mutual hatred. They did this by ensuring that one region was free to actualize its belief in its ascendancy through promoting a government, living standard and developmental paradigm that announced its superiority over the other. The advent of the military in 1966 and the further promotion of the hate narratives by the putschists in government and their attempt to unitarize a federal Nigeria, without a corresponding promotion of developmental ascendancy within each region, became the precursor of the Nigerian Civil War where over one million Nigerians were said to have been killed. Since then, even though subsequent military leaders promised to reintegrate the tribes and create a Nigeria where tribes and tongues do not matter, the unfortunate equation is that ethnic fissures have been dominant and playing at the cusp of governmental decisions ever since. While so many policies were made to mend the obvious inequalities, overt attempts were in the same mould made to widen the gulf.
With impunity, the Buhari government has promoted that ethnic identity and supremacy more than any government within memory in recent time, with obvious flourishing of ethnic fissures and growth of sharper ethnic identities. It is as if we are back to the unitaristic – pardon the inflection – inclination of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi of 1966. One of such is what is manifesting in the Nigeria Police today, the PSC being its most audacious instrument.
What name can one give an appointment of 14 Assistant Inspectors General of Police with a large chunk going to the northern part of the country and almost none to the other parts? How can anyone justify that in equity and in good conscience? Isn’t that an affront on equitable sharing and even justice? This is why or where Senator Abdullahi’s bill would be meaningful. The folks at the PSC should be the first victims of the Hate Speech Bill when passed because those top police appointments violate the wordings of the bill. Obviously, the commission and its agents who were behind the appointments are that self-saame, “a person (who) discriminates against another person if on ethnic grounds, the person without any lawful justification treats another Nigerian citizen less favourably than he treats or would treat other person from his ethnic or another ethnic group and/or that on grounds of ethnicity, a person puts another person at a particular disadvantage when compared with other persons from other ethnic nationality of Nigeria.” They should answer to the penalty that Abdullahi wants for perpetrators of hate speech.
While as a people, we must be wary of descending into the mirror of ethnic symbols and narratives because of their obvious implications for the peaceful coexistence of the people of Nigeria, we must also be mindful of reggae star, Peter Tosh’s admonition that though the cry for peace is right, the shout for justice is more desirable. Methinks if the presidency was mindful of the danger of this descent into ethnic justifications encoded in the PSC’s lopsided appointments, it should wade into the dramatizing of these symbols at the PSC forthwith, stop the inequalities and ethnic inequities that are ongoing therein and let us return to the path of mending the cracks of our federal make-up. The cracks have been widening since the beginning of this government.
Aisha Buhari’s curious epistles
Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, brings some refreshing aura to the Muhammadu Buhari government. Being a government that is widely perceived as uninspiring, lacking in initiatives and grossly disdainful of the wishes of the people, Aisha has advertised an unexampled and I daresay, unprecedented, activism that is curious, against-method and which is worthy of interrogations. I had earlier brought out the need to interrogate, as well as acknowledge this trend, in a piece I did over a year ago.
Last Friday, Mrs. Buhari, at the General Assembly of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, (NSCIA) had continued on this curious path. Previously, she had upbraided the government run by her husband for fielding those who were not with them when the struggle to get him to Aso Rock began. Following this path, Aisha had also one day lamented the absence of a single syringe in the presidential clinic at Aso Rock, in spite of the billions voted for it.
At the NSCIA event, Aisha had told political leaders in Nigeria that they would soon regret the consequences of worsening insecurity in the country, urging them to avert this by waking up to arrest this drift into infamy. She was also reported at the event to have tongue-lashed state governors and ministers for what she called the inability of some Nigerians to have access to potable water and their obvious insulation from the tolls that insecurity is taking on the quality of lives of Nigerians. The situation, she said, was such that many people, political office holders especially, were not able to access their states.
“We must do justice to ourselves. As a result of long time of injustice done to others, today, most of us cannot go to our villages and sleep with our two eyes closed. We all know that and it is moving forward and forward…My husband has three years to go. We should fasten our seat belts, get up and do the needful or we will all regret it very soon, because at the rate which things are going, things are completely out of hand. The Vice President is here, ministers are here. They are supposed to do justice to whatever. People cannot afford potable drinking water in this country. We have ministers, we have governors..” she had been quoted to have said.
These are very penetrating statements that go deep into the roots of our current governmental afflictions. They are pungent and commendable. My interrogation is, what has the First Lady said here that are not mirrored in Omoyele Sowore’s beef with her husband’s government, or the views of those they unfairly label as haters of the government? For those who can decode grammatically loaded sentences, what does “at the rate which things are going, things are completely out of hand” mean if not that, “at the rate things are going under the Buhari government, Nigerians may be forced to seek salvation in rebellion, which may go out of hand?” So why is the First Lady not a guest of the DSS at the moment?
This is why, to my mind, the persona of the First Lady deserves to be subjected to very rigorous examination and interrogation. Is she real? If she is, are these not pieces of advice to be given to a husband at nocturnes, while the light is switched off or while he is picking his teeth, legs crossed and a newspaper held by his hand? Is this First Couple living together at all? Are these barbs from her targeted at the cabal which attempted to throw her belongings out of the Villa? Or, are these activist statements mere decoys? No doubt, curiouser and curiouser is the name of these seasonal epistles that come out from the pulpit of the Nigerian First Lady.
Google map indiscretion
Until a clarification came that it was a hoax, the hearts of many Nigerian patriots hung on the orifices of their mouths for hours upon hearing the news that the FCT Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Mr Ayuba Gora, had said that thenceforth, the corps had decreed that driving with the aid of Google map was a serious traffic offence in Nigeria. Patriots were apprehensive because of the news’ tendency to be another volley of shame, in the league of many of recent, which hang on the neck of a hapless Nigeria.
As I speak, Nigeria is still trying to swim ashore from the river of global disgust at some pronouncements and policies of our government in recent time. While the Department of State Services (DSS) said recently that it was wary of releasing rights activist, Omoyele Sowore, from its gulag so that he would not be crushed by an oncoming vehicle, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi is also courting gross disdain across the globe for Nigeria because of a bill he sponsored perceived worldwide as seeking to criminalize free speech.
It is good that the FRSC denied this story, claiming that the official had been quoted out of context, otherwise, critical questions have started to be generated by this apparently less-than-deep statement. If it were not rebutted, we would have told the FRSC that the anti-Google map mindset was hostile to development and an affront on the ease that technology is providing to citizens of the world. In virtually all developed world, Google map is an aid which drivers deploy to navigate byzantine road networks and there has been no scientific linkage between its usage and road crashes. So, why would Nigeria isolate herself from the rest of the world?