The video from South Africa should help Nigerian leaders understand what free speech is

Unless we have redefined what a democratic society is, everyone has the right to speak out against certain policies in whatever form or means they choose to, without fear of intimidation. This is called Freedom of Expression in the Nigerian constitution.

The right to free speech is a fundamental human right that prohibits government censorship of its citizens and the press, except in cases where there is a breach of the law. It is a right that allows citizens demand accountability and transparency. But how can the electorate hold their representatives accountable when their right to speak up on issues is taken away from them?

Perhaps, the video below where the former South African president, Jacob Zuma, is seen appeasing a citizen for disrespecting her culture, may be instructive for our leaders on the issue of free speech.

The woman said, “The president is pointing his finger to me, and in my culture – in my understanding, that is disrespectful and I will not tolerate that from any person. Whether it be a president of the country or whatsoever, I will not tolerate it.”

Although there were outbursts of laughter at the scene, but the president withdrew his finger when he was advised to do so.

The president said, “I’ve withdrawn my fingers.” And it all ended on a light note.”

Nigerians who are impressed by the president’s response have taken to social media to commend his action. One Twitter user said, “DSS will clamp on you ASAP.” 

How Nigerians are reacting:

We will recall how Nigerian music producer, Michael Ajereh popularly known as Don Jazzy, and Tiwatope Savage also known as Tiwa Savage, were summoned by the Police and DSS for questioning over alleged “hate speech” – political utterances against the Buhari administration.

Prior to this, Tiwa Savage had begun a movement known as “WeAreTired”, to protest against the alarming increase of sexual assault cases in the country, calling on the government to put measures in place to end the menace.

Both the musician and the music producer were cautioned about their social media posts after which they were invited for questioning.

In August, the DSS invited a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, over comments he made about the Boko Haram sect. Mailafia had said during a radio interview that a serving governor in the North was the commander of the Boko Haram sect.

Earlier, in 2017, popular musician, Innocent Idibia also known as Tubaba or Tuface, was warned against a much anticipated protest against the economic crisis in the country which led to an all-time high increase in the cost of goods and services under the Buhari administration.

The planned protest had gained momentum and several public figures and civil society groups had pledged to be part of it, but it was abruptly cancelled as the Police who had earlier promised to provide security withdrew their support and warned against staging the protest.

Laolu Akande, a Senior Special Assistant (Media) in the presidency, however, said that Tuface had the right to protest. In a Twitter post, he wrote, “It is fundamental right of the people. This administration will not prevent Nigerians from expressing themselves in peaceful protests.”

But what we see today are conscious attempts to shut down Nigerians from speaking out and having demonstrations. Nigerians are being summoned every now and then by the DSS or the police for questioning for either staging peaceful protests or for holding the government accountable.

Without the right to free speech, true democracy cannot function effectively. The citizens have a right to hold the government accountable  because political office holders are their elected representatives.

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