30 November 2019
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Nigeria’s Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, who is also the Episcopal Chair for the Commission, Mission & Dialogue, has sharply criticised the Government of Nigeria for its intention to enact a law that, he says, will stifle legitimate dissent and free speech.
In a statement made available to Vatican News by the Catholic News Service of Nigeria, Bishop Kukah described Nigeria’s rulers as “largely strangers to the ethos of and what is” a democratic society.
Nigeria still in the thrall of militarism
“Nigeria is still very far away from the goalposts of what could be called a democratic society. In my view, the environment does not as yet look anything democratic because the actors are largely strangers to the ethos of, and what is more, too many of them are tied to the old order, not to talk of the fact that the presence of General-presidents suggest that we are still in the thrall of militarism,” Bishop Kukah said.
As the Social Media Bill makes its way through the legislature, many Nigerians have expressed fears that the government wants to use the new law by being judge, jury and executioner over what it would label as fake news.
Democracy thrives on debate
Following in the steps of other countries, Nigeria is set to enact into law legislation that would see Internet users slapped with huge fines or lengthy jail time for spreading what the government considers fake news.
Bishop Kukah has reminded the government that, “Democracy thrives on debate, consensus building, negotiation, persuasion, argumentation, the rule of law, process, and inclusion. The military thrives in a coup culture, secrecy, betrayal, violence, command structure, exclusion and lack of transparency. That explains why I have always warned against describing the current charade of violent elections as democracy,” he said.
He added, “The recent outrage by the Minister of Information (and Culture), Mr Lai Mohammed over public reaction to the Social Media Bill, is illustrative of the point I am making, namely, that not all who call themselves democrats appreciate the enormous burden that goes with the claim today. The Minister has used some rather harsh and divisive words that suggest some contempt for the voices and views of those whose labours and sacrifices brought him and his government to where they are today. His language is disrespectful, appalling and illustrative of the highhandedness that suggests that we are not in a democracy. The language is as intolerant as it is alienating. The Minister says that no amount of threat, blackmail etc. will dissuade the government from going ahead with the Social Media (Bill) because it is borne out of patriotism. Really?” wondered the Bishop.
Technology is here to stay, let us make it work for us
Bishop Kukah contends that though Social Media may be a problem, the kind of legislation proposed by the government is not the way to go.
“To be sure, there is no one, including myself, who is not aware of the dangers posed by social media. We have all been victims. However, should the government wish to address this matter legally and openly, why should they be afraid of public debate? It is desirable that we address social media by way of education, open debate and transfer of knowledge. When did social media become sinister in the eyes of the government? Is it after the same government used it that they now realise it was good for them then, but bad for the rest of us now?” the prelate of Sokoto observed.
According to Bishop Kukah, the technology is here to stay, and the best approach is to harness it and make it work better for society.
“There is absolutely no doubt that we face a difficult future with what to do with social media. However, the future of employment lies there, and all we need to do is to extend the frontiers of the imagination of our Youth to enable them explore a future that can make us safer and prosperous. We know that fire burns and people drown in water. Should we, therefore, restrict the usage of water and fire or should we sit the children down and explain the dangers inherent in the goodness of water and fire? Our real challenge is the shame that now afflicts us due to years and years of neglect. A people so badly governed will use anything to express their frustration and sadly, this is what makes us all victims of hate speech,” he said.
Resist the Social Media Bill
The Bishop has urged Nigerians to resist the Social Media Bill
“The ultimate goal of this Bill is not to punish those who offend, but those who offend the government… If the government gets away with it (Social Media BIll), we have no idea what else will be on the table. Only a robust debate can cure the claims of cynicism,” Bishop Kukah insisted.
By Paul Samasumo. This report first appeared in Vatican News.