NOBEL laureate and professor of creative writing, Wole Soyinka, has described the controversial Social Media and Anti-Hate Speech Bills as harmful, cowardly, and despicable, given a recent clampdown by government on journalists.
Referring to the Department of State Services (DSS), Soyinka said though the agency objects to the use of the word “revolution”, it has itself “recently desecrated the sanctum of justice” and is charged with corruption.
“It is publicly claimed that extortion has become commonplace, inflicted on helpless citizens, some of whom lack a voice, or influential contacts, unlike the yet ongoing instance of a former media publisher and presidential candidate. Corruption can only be fought and degraded, if not entirely destroyed, within the reality of an open society. And an open society is built and sustained on the freedom of expression,” Soyinka said.
He added that the DSS must be thanked for allowing Nigerians to interrogate more carefully “any proposition that curtails that right of free expression, even where camouflaged under the rubric of Hate Speech. Or Fake news.”
“Both, we all agree are not only harmful but cowardly and despicable,” he said.
“Society does not operate in virtual reality. We exist palpably. The structure that is constitutionally empowered to determine what is denounced as Hate or Toxic Speech is rendered ineffectual daily through acts of executive condescension and disdain from the peak of governance.
“Kindly check the media for testimonies of those who have recently been discharged from or discovered in DSS custody after years in their hellholes. How would the DSS now respond, given the protection of this ready-to-kill Bill on Hate? Obviously, with complaint of Hate Attack by the accusers, punishable by death. The agency proceeds to arrest the newspaper staff and the accusers. The case goes to hearing. The judge sets a date and grants the accusers bail. What happens next?
“The agency under accusation invades the court, scatters everyone, pounces on the recently bailed ‘felon’ and drags him off struggling desperately for life and liberty. That, I repeat, is not a worst-case scenario, nor is it far-fetched. The blueprint is out in public domain.”
Soyinka asked the DSS to make public a list of all current detainees, their names, addresses, as well as records of confinement, adding that he sees “no security issue fulfilled in keeping such names secret”.
The professor also wondered why the government has a problem with the act of calling for a revolution or use of the word and argued that revolutionary actions are needed in a society battling with corruption.
“Corruption triggers off numerous collateral activities in institutional conduct and governmental interface with citizenry, confrontation with its effects is thus plainly transformational,” he said.
“This means that, for any corruption degraded society, it should be nothing less than revolutionary in approach – call it by that or any other word, it is still a revolutionary undertaking. Revolution Now? Or Soon? Later or Whenever? An anti-corruption focus is surely integral to any revolutionary agenda, often it constitutes its very trigger – check any society you wish – from Cuba through China to Egypt or Myammar.
“Corruption is hardly ever omitted in the list of indictments that justify that very undertaking called a revolution. Thus, anti-corruption activism is a conscious, revolutionary offensive that aims at transformation of the totality of the social phenomena. Those agencies, or governments that permit themselves to be terrified by the word had better learn to live with it.
“Even governments sometimes pride themselves with claims that they have revolutionized this or that facet of society or indeed, of governance itselfRevl, meaning that such a government embarks on a drastic self-transformation in both form and practice. So much, in general terms.”