By Dons Eze, PhD
With a whopping N5 million bounty placed on the head of any “hate speech” writer or any purveyor of “fake news” by Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, one could not but shut up his mouth, or turn to become a government praise singer.
Personally, I do not want to be caught in the crossfire or make myself a mince meat of those who wield the big stick. It is only a tree that will be told that it is going to be cut down that still remains in the same position until a knife is placed under it.
We praise Alhaji Lai Mohammed for his ingenuity in singlehandedly raising the punishment fine for “hate speech” and “fake news” from N500,000 to N5 million without going through the process of law. That shows you how serious the government is in ensuring that anybody who flouts that law would be severely dealt with, and that the administration is not willing to submit its activities to public scrutiny.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed constituted himself into both the legislative and the executive arms of government. He formulated the punishment bill on “hate speech” and “fake news”, raised it from N500,000 to N5 million, debated it, passed and signed it into law, and began its immediate implementation. And we have all kept mute, no protest, no demonstration!
As it is, it is either that we learn how to keep our mouths shut, or we begin to praise sing the government, whether or not we like what they are doing, whether or not what they are doing is beneficial or injurious to us. That was how we survived Decree No. 4 of 1984, which forbade anybody from publishing information that could embarrass people in government, whether or not such information was true.
Former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Obadiah Mailafia, does not know this trick. He does not know that Nigeria, though claiming to operate a constitutional democracy where freedom of speech is guaranteed, has formulated a new law that forbids anybody from saying what he sees, or what he knows, since that could constitute “hate speech”, or “fake news,” whose offender would be severely dealt with.
Obadiah Mailafia decided to open his mouth too wide and began to talk about Boko Haram and their sponsors, about killings in Southern Kaduna and in some Christian minority areas, about the general insecurity in the country, etc. He did not weigh the implications of what he was saying, that he was making “hate speech”, and in the process, touched on the sensibilities of some powerful people in society. That was why they have come up against him, tossing him up and down.
The man should even thank his God that he was not asked to personally pay the N5 million punishment fine for the “hate speech” which he made, and that it was the medium he used in diseminating that offending speech that paid that N5 million fine.
If Obadiah Mailafia had kept his mouth shut, if he did not tell us about Boko Haram and those behind their activities, if he did not tell us about killings in the North, nobody would have disturbed his peace. But he decided to fetch ant-infested firewoods, and so invited lizards to a feast.
Who does not know that killings in Southern Kaduna and in some minority Christian areas in the country, have a set purpose – to exterminate the people of the area – a genocidal war? Who does not know that Boko Haram has become a lucrative business that is making some people instant billionaires?
Who does not know that members of Boko Haram are not spirits, but people who have flesh and blood, who are being sustained by some powerful people in the country, who supply them arms and ammunition, food and other logistics, etc?
Many people know about all these, but they dare not voice them out. They would keep their mouths shut, else they fall victim to the law on “hate speech” and “fake news”, and be forced to pay the N5 million fine, and also become targets of constant harassment by security agencies.
That was why Obadiah Mailafia is being hunted, being chased from pillar to post. He has become a target of constant harassment by security agencies. Since he knows more than these security people, with their entire gamut of information gathering techniques in their kitty, he must to tell them what they already knew, the sponsors of Boko Haram, and why the crisis in Southern Kaduna has become intractable.
But Obadiah Mailafia would not be intimidated. He would not surrender. Cowards, they say, die many times before their time. He stood his ground and refused to budge. As a directing staff of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), he decided to give the people back their job, by tendering a letter of resignation to the management of NIPSS.
Obadiah Mailafia would thus be immitating the Martiniquenian born Algerian revolutionary writer, Frantz Fanon, who during the Algerian war of independence, also resigned from the French colonial civil service in protest over the killings of native Algerians by French forces.
In his letter of resignation Fanon wrote: “There comes a time when silence becomes a dishonesty. The ruling intentions of personal existence are no longer in accord with issues of common place values. For many years, my conscience has been the seat of unpardonable debates. The decision I have taken is that I cannot continue to bear a responsibility under the pretext that there is nothing else to be done”.
Obadiah Mailafia is therefore no longer comfortable serving in a government that has least regard for his people, a government that criminally shuts its eyes, or keeps silence while his own people of Southern Kaduna are being slaughtered every day. That was why he decided to turn in his resignation letter to the administration, and thus freeing his conscience!