Nigerians suddenly realized being in a season of hate speeches and ridicule courtesy of our lazy politicians that have lost focus and ideas to market their aspirations at the most appropriate time.
It was on that background, that the National Assembly planned to make laws for the general well-being of the people and also to act as a check on the executive.
As the most important component of any democracy, the legislature is the hope of any nation. It feels the people’s pulse and makes laws to make life comfortable for all. Legislators are not called the people’s representatives for fun.
They are so called because they are closer to the people. The closeness should be an advantage in law making, but it is not the case in our Nigeria of today. Rather, the lawmakers abuse the closeness and become law themselves.
The constituents who they courted before their election suddenly become their foes that they shut their doors against with arrogance and pomposity of recklessness.
The lawmaking process in Nigeria has not been what it should be because legislators are far apart with their people to really know what they want.
They prefer interacting with praise singers, bootlickers, women of easy virtue and jesters and dullards that have low level of intelligence to receive pretentious praises despite glaring evidence of poor performance and weak public relation and social interaction.
A lawmaker who wishes to make his mark will live and work for his constituents and not against them as evidently displayed by few. Lawmaking is not all about distributing made in China grinding machines, Tokunbo vehicles, motorcycles, water pumping generators, sponsorship to Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem, JAMB, WAEC and NECO forms for indigent pupils or free medical outreach for few days to the sick. No, lawmaking is much more than that.
Lawmaking is to ensure that laws are in place to enable the executive do its job of providing the requirements of the governed including those social services.
If one may ask, instead of donating fairly used vehicles to the already malnourished, motorcycles to the wretched in the constituency that can hardly parley with two meals a day, why not the establishment of micro companies in the constituency to employ labour, improve internally generated revenue and give a sense of direction to the locals for economic self-reliance? The greedy and the wicked will never venture into such progressing ideas for fear of the obvious.
But majority of our legislators see themselves more as members of the executive than the legislature. They drive more pleasure in visiting the presidential villa or state government houses for dinner or photographs with the president or governors than checkmating the executive. So, they have developed the interest of competing with the executive in providing ‘social amenities’ to the wretched that sing their praises for crumbs. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that a legislator should not help the needy in his constituency. The point here is that they should not turn that to be their main job at the expense of making laws that will make life more meaningful for the people than a selected few morally bankrupt idiots.
Yes, there may be pressure from their constituents, which in most instances they brought upon themselves ab initio. They do most of those things because of their promise to the electorate during campaign and for future re-election. They forget that running for a seat in the legislature is different from aspiring to be in the executive. We do not only need voter education, but also tutorials on democracy for many of those aspiring to lead us.
If you ask many of our lawmakers the purpose of being in the legislature, you may be disappointed especially from those in the state legislatures.
So, if a man does not know why he is in the legislature, how then will he know the kind of laws to work on for the benefit of his constituents? What then is the need of the planned Hate Speech Bill in the National Assembly? Of what benefit will it be to the governed who are deprived of good governance, if eventually passed into law? The National Assembly is simply just being afraid of its shadow.
Nigerians do not need a Hate Speech Law for anything. If one is not afraid of his shadow why the fear, of hate or objective criticism from those on the receiving end? How will the hate-speech law improve the lives of those in Kala Balge, Mavo, Kantana, Orokram, Ganawuri, Pil-gani, Lassa, Mutum Biyu, Gassol, Kukawa, Ovutu, Ohafia, Kunkyam, Bagwayam, Onitsha or Obudu and those other remote places not captured in the map?
The National Assembly seems to be more interested in the bill for selfish interest than national interest. It wants to use it possibly to protect itself from objective criticisms and other genuine challenges. But can one occupy a public office and still run away from criticism? It is double, impossible. Unfortunately, behind the scene, it is receiving support of the executive to surface. What is hate speech in saying that “my representative is not, understanding why he is representing me or has never sponsored a bill due to incapacitation as most of the members and senators from most states are in that group?” and I mobilize others that share my opinion to recall him from representing us than remaining there as a bench warmer in- search of business capital at our detriment. We are faced with this situation because most of our lawmakers hate to be told the truth but prefer to live in an illusion.
To some of them, the truth amounts to a hate speech. I am pained that a law like this was initiated under an administration which the people erroneously believed would be tolerant of all views, no matter the harshness and challenges.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan said nothing new when he said the people will decide whether or not they want the hate speech law. The people have long decided that they are not interested in that law, instead, they prefer death penalty for treasury looters and corrupt public servants and their collaborators and those planning to force the hate speech law will soon be confronted with the cold, hard fact at the public hearing, if it is not stage managed as usual to achieve a predetermined purpose.
Criminalizing hate speech when there are laws in the statute books to take care of such matters does not portray our lawmakers serious and educative enough. Why are they more interested in protecting themselves and other high up instead of the down trodden that are shortchanged through poor service delivery and corrupt practices?
The sponsor of the bill, one unserious Aliyu Abdullahi supposedly a senator, having seen the groundswell of opposition against his proposal for death penalty for offenders, has promised to remove that harsh punishment. The most ideal thing for him to do is to simply withdraw the bill and initiate something better like death penalty for looters etc. But he may not. He and his like minds are planning to have their way at the public hearing on the bill, which may be organized to shut out those opposed to it.
For sure, they will plant their stooges at the hearing to argue baselessly on why the bill should be passed. But is Senator Aliyu Abdullahi so an empty lawmaker that has nothing more daring to offer for a better Nigeria than that mirage that will be dead on arrival?
A warning though, that the Senate should not test the people’s will by holding a sham public hearing in order to have a way on the bill. Getting people from some ministries, departments and agencies to speak in support of the bill, without allowing the civil society organizations and rights activists to have their say will not augur well for the polity at the end. To get as many people as possible to speak against the bill is not a problem, even those of us on the other side of the divide are enough to bury that imagination. The question to the Senate President is will he allow us to present our case objectively and orderly during the public hearing and engage Senator Aliyu Abdullahi in an intellectual debate on the bill? Honestly, those behind the bill are hatemongers in a world of illusion.
How can they attempt denying the majority their constitutional right to freedom of expression by hitting them with a law that even in closed nations such as North Korea does not exist? What we are saying is that let there be openness and freedom, and not to be pigeon-holed by those who are temporarily occupying positions of power which we are equally qualified if interested to aspire, occupy and perform better with showered encomiums.
*Muhammad is a commentator on national issues.*