The social media regulation and hate speech bills being debated on the floor of the National Assembly are nothing but a misplace of priority. This is because the social media problems are fall out of unemployment, hunger and other problems which have made the country the poverty capital of the world.
On the 26th June 2018, the world poverty clock after carrying out their observation and analysis declared Nigeria a poverty capital of the world and while many analysts were still debating this especially, looking at countries like India, DR Congo, Syria and other war zone countries, another statistics emerged from another international organization claiming that the number of people living below poverty line has greatly increased.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) on 11th July 2019, the number of people living in extreme poverty is now more than ninety million though, this is debatable. But looking at the inflation at the price of goods and services, it seems this is not too far from reality.
Since 2015, the prices of goods and services have continued to increase. It appears as if every new year celebration comes with a new price tagged. For instance, a bag of rice which was sold at the rate of eight thousand Naira (#8000) in 2015 is Twenty-five thousand naira (#25,000) today and this applies to almost all the daily items in the country.
Similarly, in 2017, the price of a litre of petrol was jacked up from Ninty seven Naira (#97) to the current price, one hundred forty-two naira (#142). This hike really affected the transportation system, house rent, school fees among other things that are essential to Nigerians. However, despite all these, the bills the lawmakers seem to give their utmost attention are social media regulation and hate speech bills.
Social Media regulation bill is sponsored by the Senator representing Niger East District, Sani Musa and it seeks to make provisions for protection from Internet falsehood and manipulations and other related matters. Its penalty for defaulters goes up to N300,000 for individuals and up to N10 million for corporate organisations and imprisonment of up to three years or both.
While the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill was sponsored by the deputy chief whip, Aliyu Abdullahi, a Senator representing Niger North District. The bill prescribes the death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading a falsehood that leads to the death of another person and seeks to help investigate and prosecute offenders.
Though looking at the content of the bills, they seem to address the shortcomings of the new media (social media) but at the same time, they failed to understand that these shortcomings become more pronounced because of the inability of the government to curb unemployment, hunger to mention but few.
Where there is no buyer there cannot be sold, the preacher of hate speech and other related issues are doing that on the social media because they know the state has already bred an army of unemployed youth present on the social media.
These youths most of the times use this avenue to express their aggression by spreading anything spreadable on the social media. As it of a common knowledge that where there is no idle hands to see the workshop of the devil will be very difficult.
Though ethnicity, religion and other similar factors also come to play in the spread of hate speech it is obvious that if poverty is taken away from them, the preacher of hate speech will find it difficult to sell their falsehood.
Poverty makes people see things in the opposite direction and gives ethnic and religious bigotry easy access to manipulate people through the social media either for political reason or other reasons best known to them.
Presently, the nation has more than enough laws to take care of issues of hate speech, defamation of character or slander. Even, there is a criminal code that identifies such offences and the punishment, there is a Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria Act, a Cybercrime Act and other legislation that are already in place to address this problem but they seem not working because of poverty.
Apart from poverty, the issue of illiteracy also needed to be dealt with. The government needs to provide an enabling environment for learning. This will seriously reduce the rate of half-baked graduates who have dominated the social media space waiting for anything spreadable to spread.
Also, the government needs to improve on the social investment scheme, invest more in agriculture, create more jobs, transform our transportation system, repair the bad roads and declare war against poverty. When a total war is declared on poverty the issues of hate speech will become a thing of the past.
Therefore, it is pertinent at this point that the lawmakers go back to the drawing board and passed an anti-poverty bill so the shortcomings of the social media which have become a great threat to the nation’s development, peace and unity no longer find a safe haven in our land.
Femi Oluwasanmi writes in from Ibafo in Ogun State. You can reach him via 08156379097.