STOP THE HATE SPEECH BILL! FREE SOWORE, BAKARE AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
Statement of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (RSV), Nigeria, 12th November, 2019, www.revolutionarysocialistvanguard.WordPress.com
Today marks the 4th time the Take-It-Back movement will stage anti-government protest hinged on five cardinal demands bordering on minimum wage; improvement of the general economy; the end to systemic corruption and the restoration of freedom of speech and unionism in Nigeria. The protests are been participated in several cities in Nigeria since the #RevolutionNow nationwide protests of August 5, 2019. This is without mentioning other demonstrations organized by other civil rights groups across the country since that time. However the today's protests and the demonstrations organized for the past few weeks have been given substantial momentum by the continued detention of the convener of the movement Omoyele Sowore and other activists like Olawale Bakare (Mandate) by the Department of State Services (DSS) which is in defiance of two standing court orders for their release. The duo were first granted bail on September 24th, at the Abuja High Court in Maitamah by Justice Taiwo Taiwo who had before then given the order for Sowore to be detained by the DSS for forty-five days after he was picked up on August 3, just two days before the #RevolutionNow protest of August 5th which he was to lead.
Olawale Bakare, on the other hand is the campus coordinator of the Take-It-Back movement in Osun State and was arrested by DSS operatives during the #RevolutionNow protest in Osogbo, the Osun state capital. Ever since all attempts of legal intercession for the duo has been abortive as the Buhari led regime has filed against them bogus charges ranging from treason/treasonable felony to money laundering to breach of public peace. All of these is due to the reactionary argument of the Nigerian ruling elite and their cronies in the media that the call for "revolution" is an attempt to stage a coup d'etat against the Nigerian government. Apart from these two, several other activists are in police detention, an example is the journalist Agba Jalingo who is from Cross River State and has been in police custody for more than two months for uncovering the 500 million naira corruption scandal of the incumbent governor of Cross Rivers State, Ben Ayade. Like Sowore and Bakare, Jalingo too is involved in a lengthy and agonizing court proceeding that is full of drama. He is been charged with similar offences of conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and an attempt to topple the Cross Rivers State government
On two occasions the state prosecutors have brought in masked witnesses against the accused in the first case against Jalingo, in the second case against Sowore and Bakare (Mandate). Although the similarities in the cases are increasing both have the same ruling class character because even Jalingo was charged majorly for the same offences as Sowore and Mandate. The three "offenders" have remained unbailable since their detention either through blatant denial of bail applications by the High court in Calabar, Cross Rivers or by the Herculean and near insurmountable bail conditions which are on their own an infringement on human rights in the Abuja High Court. After the attempt by the DSS to stampede the court with masqueraded witnesses on November 7th ended in a fiasco the court was forced to grant bail to Sowore and Bakare as they managed to meet the stiff bail conditions but the DSS have refused to release them giving as an excuse that the court bailiff arrived by 3:30pm which is closing hours for them not minding that they abducted Sowore in Gestapo style by 1am at his hotel room in Lagos.
The trial of Jalingo today saw the restriction of journalists and pressmen from entering the court room or observing the proceedings. Even some members of the legal team were forced to leave the court room by two court guards and the clerk as they brought in the masquerade witness again. All of these and more have afforded Nigeria a high ranking position amongst the most hostile places for journalism and press freedom. At present, a student journalist, Alfred Olufemi, has been charged to court for reporting about misconducts in the work ethics of the staff of Hillcrest Agro-Allied Companies which is owned by Mrs Sarah Alade, the Special adviser to president Muhammadu Buhari on Finance and Economy. Sarah Alade is also the former Deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The editor of NewsDigest (the online news platform used by Alfred), Gidado Yushau, has also been arrested alongside Adebowale Adekoya, the platform's professional webmaster. Yushau and Olufemi have been charged with criminal conspiracy and defamation and will have their next day in court come January 13th.
For us in the Vanguard, all these developments are the display of a frantic attempt by the Nigerian bourgeois ruling class to stabilize an already collapsed political order. The Nigerian ruling elite is entering its most vulnerable state, hence it must launch all artillery in its weaponry to forestall the prevalence of radical and revolutionary tendencies. However, at any rate, all these attacks can only promote chaos in the system and enhance the reawakening of the masses to their class role of dashing the capitalist system through a popular revolution. According to a publication; "A Downward Spiral" by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP);
At least 36 Nigerian journalists were attacked between January and July 2019, with 30 of the attacks recorded during the 2019 general elections....... The attacks on the press during the elections included: illegal arrests and detention; harassment; physical attacks; denial of access; death of a journalist covering the elections in Delta State. The platform noted that the attacks were perpetrated by both thugs and state actors and were recorded mostly in the south-south, south-east, and north central part of the country......., the Bayelsa Government House photographer, Reginald Dei, was shot dead in his house on February 23 by gunmen in military uniform while waiting for the Presidential and National Assembly election results. “During this period, 44 other broadcast stations were sanctioned such as the Jay 101.5 FM, based in Jos, which was shut down for what the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) described as 'inciting broadcast' in a letter it sent to the station on March 2. In 2018, over 21 attacks were recorded with seven unlawful arrests, which include the arrest of PREMIUM TIMES' reporters, Samuel Ogundipe and Azeezat Adedigba, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) on the order of the Inspector-General of Police. In 2017, PAT recorded 16 attacks and 3 deaths including the gruesome murder of Famous Giobaro of Bayelsa radio station, Glory FM 97.1, who was shot dead on April 16 (A Downward Spiral: How Federal & State Authorities are Tightening the Screws on Media Freedom in Nigeria pg23. For the list of media houses sanctioned see pg 25-28)
Further indications to this brazen display of callousness by the APC government is expressed through the attempt to bribe, Deji Adeyanju, one of the lead protesters with 1 million naira to boycott the #OccupyDSS protest; the major demands of protests being freedom for Sowore and Bakare on 12th November in Abuja.
However the APC government is formulating its attack on the media from disruptive and arbitrary forms to more concerted methods which is the major motive for the Hate Speech Bill that has just passed the first reading at the National Assembly. Besides the promulgation of repressive laws the Nigerian state is also working on the militarization of the whole country through a new military initiative termed "Operation Positive Identity" (OPI) to intimidate civil rights groups and Nigerians generally from taking part in public demonstrations and movements. The "Operation Positive Identity" was a direct response by the government to anticipated remonstrances that will emanate from flaunting court orders for the release of detained activists, albeit it is a veritable tool to hamper mass-based democracy if allowed to take root.
The Hate Speech Bill seeks to make short work of media rights and freedom of expression by flagrantly imposing capital punishments for hate speech 'offenders'. The provisions of the bill entails that a new government agency called the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech be formed. It like every other draconian measure cited in this piece has a predecessor or precursor. It was first brought to the floor of the Red Chamber in March 2018 by the then Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Abdullahi Aliu Sabi, from Niger State he proposed in 2018 that a similar committee be set up for the man-hunt, although there are some slight differences in the names of the committees as the proposed committee was called National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech. The only difference in the name being the "Independent" yet Nigerians should not be deceived by this as whatever commission constituted for this reason cannot be anymore independent than the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who have become tools in the hands of incumbent regimes during ruling class in-fighting. The bill is captured by the reportage of The Guardian Newspaper Nigeria as follows:
It was the 12th item on the Order Paper yesterday and was granted automatic first reading on the floor of the Senate. It stipulates: “Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.” On offences like harassment on the basis of ethnicity, racial contempt, the bill proposes not less than five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.
“A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and /or directs the performance of, any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such a person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”
According to the bill, “Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of this Section if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect. “A person who subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to an imprisonment fora term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than ten million naira, or to both.”
The bill, according to its sponsor, is aimed at ensuring the elimination of all forms of hate speeches; promoting the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic groups; as well as advising the Federal Government on the matter. Other situations which the bill condemns are when “a person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this Section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating that other person’s dignity; or creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.” The commission will be headed by an executive chairperson to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Council of State, subject to the confirmation of at least two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.
This commission when set up will give unprecedented ease to the ruling class to conduct a systematic witch-hunt across the federation more successfully than the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services (DSS). In this case such a commission will be a broader non-partisan instrument to silence voices of dissent and pro-democracy than the likes of EFCC, DSS and SARS. The report continues;
Other functions of the commission include discouraging persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encouraging full participation by all ethnic communities in social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities. It is also to plan, supervise, coordinate and promote educational and training programmes to create public awareness, support, and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups. But the planned law is already eliciting criticism from some quarters.
It goes without saying at this point that the Nigerian capitalist class is through the auspices of the National Assembly setting up a propaganda cum repression machinery to zombify Nigerians by panic and police tactics. This is a crucial feature of any authoritarian regime and it should be noted that such were used by Stalinist Russia to sustain the dictatorship and force blind loyalty on the workers for the regime. It will ultimately lead to conditions very similar to the organized mass torture of the Uyghur muslims in China where the Uyghurs are forced to accept the Chinese state and its "ideals" by Xi regime. Or it may assume a form which tends toward the conversion of Kashmir into a concentration camp by the Modi government in India. The Nigerian military are already systematically implementing the gradual militarization of regions hostile to the regime with Operation Positive Identity, a mechanism being positioned for fascist style mass arrests of dissenting parties and ethnic groups.
Nigerians must not make the mistake of characterizing the present repressive state as a feature of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC. Rather the events of the past few months must be correctly situated as the advent of the exacerbation of class interests between the ruler and the ruled in a capitalist system that is heading for the rocks. The behavior now displayed by the APC would have been replicated by its Siamese twin the PDP were they in power. Nigerians should not be too quick to cast aside the fact that the APC is only the offspring of failures of the PDP and all that they do are already laid down practices of the preceding party but on steroids. However some of the key members of the PDP like Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate in the recent elections, are out to 'critique' and 'expose' the Buhari administration as reported in the Guardian:
“The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech. “Those behind the bill should wake up to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests” he advised.”
In the real sense Atiku's claim that his party between 1999 to 2015 has never toyed with democracy is at best a hoax. In November 1999, shortly after transition to civilian government over 2,500 people were slaughtered by the Nigerian Army in the Odi Massacre sanctioned by the grand patron of the PDP and the then 'civilian' president Olusegun Obasanjo in whose administration Atiku Abubakar was vice president. Beyond this the PDP have in any case laid the foundations for the repression the Nigerian people now suffer either through collapsing the economy or by passing their fare share of repressive laws. One of which is the Cybercrime Prohibition Act of May 2015. The head count of journalists and media practitioners attacks before and after this law is endless but according to accounts from SERAP a few are brought to bare.
On March 28, 2014, a Columnist and an Editor with the Daily Sun newspaper, Ebere Wabara was abducted from his Aguda, Lagos home by policemen from the Abia State Command reportedly at the behest of the then Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji. Wabara was a staunch critic of the Governor and had used his articles to severely criticize the state Governor. On October 22, 2017, Mr Paul Ifere, a social media critic of the Governor of Cross Rivers State, Ben Ayade, was arrested and charged to court over his comments on his Facebook wall against the Governor. He was arraigned at Magistrate Court 1, Calabar. He was earlier arrested in Abuja and driven to Calabar to face a four-count charge. Chief Magistrate E. E. Edogi granted him bail. March 21, 2018, social media activist in Ebonyi State, Chika Chika, who is known for criticising politicians in the State, was viciously attacked by unknown assailants.A day prior to the attack, he had raised an alarm on Facebook, alleging that some people had been sent to 'warn' him to desist from criticising some persons in the State. The attack took place at his residence in Abakaliki. He sustained injuries on his head and body during the attack.
It should be noted that all instances cited above are evils orchestrated and perpetrated by PDP governments yet in the immediate there's an on-going persecution on freedom of the press being sustained by a governor from our opposition party the PDP, the person of Ben Ayade, against Abga Jalingo a journalist has earlier mentioned.
In all the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Bin-Salman regime of Saudi Arabia marked the beginning of a resurgence of global attacks by right-wing regimes on freedom of speech, expression and the press such that similar attacks around the world are not by coincidence but are reactions to heightened chaos in the capitalist system hence Nigerians must recognize the historical significance of the present times with a global perspective and must link the current attacks by the Buhari government to the general resistance against imperialism, dictatorships and colonialism all around the world. Hate speech is a consequence of long term impoverishment and ill-education of the Nigerian masses. All forms of this vice in the society originates from the hardships that has been enforce on the plebs by the 56 year reign of the same extreme right dictators since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Only a planned economy based on a workers' and poor peasant government can dissolve the economic contradictions which breed ethnic tensions and extreme nationalist/partisan tendencies.
To say that the authoritarian regime of president Buhari with consonance with his other counterparts in PDP has launched a war against the Nigerian masses is a statement which continues to claim practical value each day. The conglomerate of the ruling class has first unleashed an unprovoked attack on the people through state sponsored terrorism in which groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen have continued to slaughter Nigerians without restraints. Now they have come for the democratic rights of the Nigerian people through the Hate Speech Bill and the agenda of a military-police state.
To make matters worse the Buhari government has closed the borders for the past three months making life more unbearable for the many Nigerian workers. The border closure is just another example of the tussle of foreign and national capital for the economy just like Brexit process in Europe because months into the border closure after inflation in food prices has reached cut-throat levels for many Nigerians, the Buhari government is revealing plans to give the richest man in Africa, Alike Dangote, exclusive rites to rice farming. This is the same man who the Nigerian moguls own shares in his group of companies and have also given the license to erect a new petroleum refinery in Lagos after having crippled all state owned refineries. The border closure will in the long run serve to quarantine international media from reporting human rights abuses when OPI and the Hate Speech Commission swing into full action.
The current tactics used by the APC government are by no means new and they are as, we have emphasized before consistent with the features of any state tending towards fascism. Buhari is only following closely the steps of president Trump who has been hell-bent on building a wall across the southern border of the US
Leftists, revolutionaries and authentic socialists must with the Nigerian people be ready to wage an unending struggle against the authoritarian regime of president Buhari and all members of the Nigerian ruling class at all levels. To make reference to history all the current features have occurred at one time or the other. What we see now is only a repetition. In 2016/2017 Operation Python Dance (OPD) was launched against pro-Biafra separatist movement in South-eastern Nigeria. Now Nigerians are faced with Operation Positive Identity (OPI). The Cybercrime Act was passed in 2015; now Nigerians are faced with the Hate Speech Bill. There has also been a resurgence of controversial cattle rearing policies such as Cattle Colony, Universal Grazing Bill and now Rural Grazing Bill (RUGA). The same way the Hate Speech Bill was almost passed last year.
We say that the struggle of the Nigerian people to preserve democracy and fight economic insolvency is one with the global uprisings of workers and people around the world from Chile to Ecuador to Venezuela to Bolivia to Iraq, Iran, Egypt Syria and Palestine. For us in the Vanguard, the struggle for democracy, economic emancipation and independence are intertwined phases of the war against imperialism and capitalism. Hence we call for a general anti-government strike of workers and the popular masses. The #OccupyDSS protests must be given a broader scope to cover the general demands for freedom of expression and the press; for immediate opening of all close borders and the stoppage of operation positive identity
For us an immediate general strike should ensue under the joint umbrella of civil rights groups, workers unions, and mass movements such as the Take-It-Back and CORE with the following slogans:
Down with with the Hate Speech Bill! No to social media regulation! Free Sowore, Bakare, Jalingo and all political prisoners!
Reject the Militarized/Police state! Down with Operation Positive Identity (OPI)! Defeat the Buhari/APC government!
At the same time the RSV warns of any confidence or political support for the PDP! We call revolutionary activists to jointly fight with us!
For a unitary struggle of all Nigerians at Home and in Diaspora to undermine the Buhari administration! For a workers and peasant militia to combat terrorism and the repressive state machinery!
Open all national borders! For an economy that is democratically control by peasant and workers councils! For international solidarity with all oppressed people of the world
For a revolutionary socialist party of Nigeria as a prelude to a United Socialist Republic of West Africa and the world!
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