DSS’ interest tells us free speech comes at a huge cost in Nigeria

Don Jazzy and Tiwa Savage

The relationship between Nigerian leaders and citizens has never been at its best. We can describe the relationship using words like ‘war’, ‘struggle’, ‘protest’, with the government appearing to only be interested in establishing policies that further create hostility between both parties. Lately, the debate on free speech has rocked the nation, consequent of government policies that infringe basic human rights.

In a recent update, popular Nigerian music producer, Michael Ajereh, also known as Don Jazzy, and Tiwatope Savage widely known as Tiwa Savage, have been invited by the Department of State Serviced (DSS) for questioning over alleged political utterances against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The news, as expected, caught the attention of Nigerians on social media with many leaving critical remarks on the update and question the intent of the DSS and the government at large.

Tiwa Savage had started a campaign – “WeAreTired” – some months ago, following a sharp rise in sexual assault cases across Nigeria; especially against women. She asked the president to address the issue. For Don Jazzy, we all know how he makes comments on government policies every other day.

In the SaharaRepoters report, “this in addition to several posts on social media calling on the government to live up to its responsibilities to Nigerians earned Tiwa Savage and Don Jazzy an invitation by the DSS.”

The invitation took place took weeks ago, and they hardly spent time at the DSS office, but left with a warning to be careful with their posts on social media.

In another report, Yemi Alade and Waje, alongside two other undisclosed celebrities, were summoned by the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, for calling out the unconcerned attitude of the Buhari administration in tackling rape and social injustices. They were also warned to steer clear of political comments in order not to incur the ‘wrath’ of the President Buhari administration.

If you decided to understand why this administration is so keen on regulating criticism, you’ll definitely hit a brick wall. But, once upon a time when Nigerians looked away at these policies. The criticism only goes deeper with a more enlightened citizenry.

In 2019, a bill was proposed by Lai Mohammed for the regulation of social media content. For the minister, this bill will shield Nigerians from passive hate contents on social media targeted at the government. Thanks to hashtags and demonstrations, the bill has not been passed.

Now the Social Media bill that is still being debated is just one out of a few policies that appear threatening to these human rights -Thankfully, it is yet to be passed – A few weeks ago, Lai Mohammed, the minister of information announced that there have been a raise to the fine on ‘Hate Speech’ by the regulated body responsible for the media and its content, The National Broadcast Commission, (NBC). Lai Mohammed announced that the fine had jumped from N500,000 to N5,000,000, an increase that shocked many Nigerians. The news erupted a debate on social media and the news media, as many wondered why so desperately, the government has always tried to keep Nigerians quiet.

Thankfully the NBC challenged Lai Mohammed in his solo move in increasing the fine. There may exist a very discontented marriage between Nigerians and the government with these policies they make which seem to show more dictatorship than leadership. Especially when you consider how these policies make the rich richer and the poor poorer. But, we won’t stop talking.

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