YNaija Editorial: Freedom of expression in Nigeria is under serious threat

One of the key pillars in a democracy is the right to freedom of expression; as a matter of fact, this right is guaranteed by the constitution. With this freedom upheld, people within the country are confident that they can express their thoughts on anything without fear of recrimination.

Recently, this freedom has come under attack in Nigeria, either by government and its agencies, or through the use of proxies. This was evident in the pro-government protests that ‘coincided’ with the anti-government protests that was planned by pop music star, Tuface Idibia. This was after Tuface Idibia withdrew from the protests amidst allegations in some quarters that he had been threatened by security agents.

A clearer example happened this weekend, when entertainment mogul Audu Maikori was arrested by the Department of State Security without any official explanation and released the day later. Presumably, he was arrested for tweeting misleading pictures and a fabricated story of killings in the southern part of Kaduna, where internecine violence has been occurring between Fulani herdsmen militia and local residents.

His arrest and release without any official explanation is more characteristic of a repressive dictatorship than of a democracy. If authorities had felt he committed a crime, he would have been charged to court. Rather, it seemed they got the excuse they needed to intimidate him for being a loud voice criticizing government inaction in Nigeria.

In all fairness, attacks and attempted attacks on freedom of expression are not unique to the Buhari administration: previous administrations have also clamped down on critics while state governors have often had critics detained unlawfully. There have also been numerous attempts to stifle freedom of speech, especially online through laws; thankfully, none has ever succeeded.

While we agree that the right to freedom of expression comes with the responsibility of responsible speech, we cannot subscribe to clampdown on speech outside the confines of the law. The laws that regulate free speech and define what irresponsible expression is does not go beyond libel and defamation of character – and this is how it should remain.

Governments need to respect the right to freedom of speech, even if this freedom results in expression that they do not like.

Also, Nigerians no matter their political leanings must be firm in insisting that this freedom is not eroded or taken away. If one person’s freedom of expression is taken away, it will only be a matter of time that it will be another person and gradually, the entire population.

If the right to freedom of expression is no longer sacrosanct, then our democracy becomes a sham and it will be a slide back akin to the dark days of military dictatorships.

We must not let this happen.

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