Opinion: Nigeria’s Anti Social Media Bill is Hate Speech.

Following the outrage on the internet about the Anti Social Media Bill. I decided to write a letter to Sen. S. Basiru, who is representing Osun State, my home state, in the House of Assembly.

Last week there was a heated debate in my University’s Nigerian whatsapp group about Sowore’s incarceration and the flaunting of court orders by DSS and the government.

Someone said something to the effect that our debate on social media was pointless.

At first, I felt, it’s useless responding to academics who should know better than this type of poor thinking.

However, I figured, my silence would not do anyone good.

If we must understand the true worth of education, we must understand that our institutions are designed to improve the quality of thought.

The way ideas are processed has continued to progress from caveman to critical thoughts.

We don’t go about smashing each other’s skulls with stones just to get food or women or land.

“…our institutions are designed to improve the quality of thought.”

Damilola Jonathan Oladeji

We now depend on dialogue and value exchange to exert our desires. Money and laws have taken the place of brute force.

Why are we retrogressing?

Now, when educated persons, particularly those in the academia cannot understand the primal role of debates and conversations in the design of society, how do you expect Senator Elisha Abbo who was caught on camera assaulting a salesgirl to understand? 

I hear that he, Senator Elisha, is supporting the passing of a bill that would repress those who called for justice against his act of inhumanity to a fellow citizen. 

Every time Nigeria politics and politicians are discussed, there’s always that person; young, supposedly educated, who thinks debates or opinions on social media are useless.

I have a few theories about this social media regulation bill aka anti-social media bill.

Two major institutions within the Nigerian space have led us up to this point where we are so determined to go back to primordial rules of engagement.

First, our Universities.

They are ridiculously unhealthy spaces for quality thinking.

In my country, questioning is frowned upon and treated as an affront to authority.

As an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University, two contrasting memories will never leave me.

One was a lecturer who had arrived from his Ph.D. here in South Africa. There were rumours about this man; about how fierce and unyielding he could be.

However, when Dr. Abel Olaleye arrived, I came to find out that what people feared was his critical thoughts and intelligence.

I was in my Fifth year.

He once gave a class test that had different results from different students.

When he finally shared the answer, no one got it right. He then said, “…. however, there is an answer that I think may even be better than mine”.

He pulled out my answer sheet and discussed the calculations I had done.

This was in Advanced Property Valuation ESM 503 & 504. This was one of the courses from which I graduated as the top student.

The second course I graduated with an award from was taught by a lecturer whose office was perpetually open to students. Dr. Oladokun with Dr. Olaleye literally helped with my undergraduate dissertation. Neither of them was my supervisor.

My supervisor, on the other hand, was a different story entirely. Fierce, intelligent, powerful, but his word was final.

I will not be dishonest and say my undergraduate supervisor was easy to debate or question. In fact, he was the final word in his courses. I probably discussed my dissertation with him once. I had a C for which I can only be thankful that I didn’t fail even as one of the best in my set.

In my country, questioning is frowned upon and treated as an affront to authority.

Damilola Jonathan Oladeji

I am sure if you sample most Nigerians in Universities or any academic institution at all, there are many more of my Supervisor than there are of the first two I mentioned.

Second, our Cultural institutions.

Say what you want about the Igbo culture. One thing I experienced while living in Anambra is the freedom with which opinions were expressed.

It was irreverent, unabashed, and by Yoruba standards, a disrespectful culture.

However, I have learned so much from Igbos. When it comes to saying your mind and damning the consequences, they have passed down this culture effectively through the years.

This doesn’t exempt them from the egomania and ageist tendencies of the average adult in Nigeria.

When an average African elder meets a superior argument, he either beats it out of the child or condescends to the point of ridicule.

The average first response to debate and logic from a Yoruba child is resentment by the elders. Especially when they are wrong or defeated.

Should we talk about Northern Nigeria? Everything about Northern Nigeria is shrouded in agendas to clamp down on as many freedoms as possible. From freedom of religion to freedom of speech, to freedom of education.

It’s therefore not a surprise that this Social Media regulation bill is sponsored by a Northern Majority including Senator Slapper.

It’s also no surprise that the only Senator to speak against the Bill so far is from the South East, Senator Nnamani Chimaroke.

Yes Afenifere, Ohaneze, Falana and Ijaw Youth Congress have sworn to fight the bill.

Yet, there is not a single South West Senator that has publicly taken a stand against this.

Leadership Reflects on the People

Truth is, our leadership is reflective of the quality of thoughts we have.

The quality of thoughts and conversations produced by 200 Million of us have led us to this point.

Just like our elections have reflected a downward spiral in civic engagement, and we are now back to burning opposition party members in their homes, stealing ballot boxes, shooting voters and bloodshed.

It must not surprise anyone if this bill is passed into law. Except we all take a stand.

” …our leadership is reflective of the quality of thoughts we have.”

Damilola Jonathan Oladeji

The only proof that we have evolved beyond cavemen; dialogue, is about to be tossed in the trash.

If this should ever be the case, we will soon proceed to close down all schools and return to our roots, naked, and eating raw yam straight from the soil.

What are the likely outcomes?

  1. Placing embargo on free speech is only going to encourage anarchy. Humans were designed like pressure bottles to always seek an escape for pent up urges. 
  2. If dialogue is repressed then citizens would be tempted to circumvent civil engagements including the law in order to exercise their anger on one another. In this day and age, public and free dialogue can only improve our chances of ending bloodletting which is creeping back into our political spaces. 
  3. Finally, a lot of young people have carved out meaningful opportunities for themselves using social media. I am a particular example of this. If social media and free speech is denied every youth in such a country where it is perceived that no one cares for us; then the nation may shut its door against huge resources and open to horrible vices and crimes like have not been seen in a long time. 

This is why I appeal to you and your office that you exercise your seat accordingly and speak up against this baseless and futile waste of resources that is being exercised by lawmakers.
May God help you and guide your conscience right.

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