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25.06.2021 Opinion Nigerians Must Demand Their Freedom Now More Than Ever

Published 25th Jun, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

There is a frightening way in which Nigerians adapt to abnormal situations that are of grave concern to their existence: lack of constant electricity, use of generators, flagrant disobedience of court orders, fires in markets, fuel tanker explosions, and in more recent times, kidnappings across the country, the presence of 40 million internally displaced people, and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs).

The predictability of the reaction of Nigerians is one of the things the government has understood perfectly and capitalised on; uproar for a few days, and then silence where everyone moves on to a different topic. But this is not a behaviour we can continue in the face of recent challenges. From the moment the Muhammadu Buhari government came into power, it has sought to control, totally, the media space. When the Hate Speech Bill and Social Media Bill were kicked against, the next step was a ban on Twitter, a representation of Nigeria’s civic space. But this is just one of many steps the government plans on taking control of the social media space.

The introduction of various bills under different names has become more routine. It has shown the ultimate goal of this government, state sanction on media and free speech. There are few things young Nigerians should allow themselves adapt to, a state controlled media should never be one of them.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous countries for journalists to work in. Over the years, Nigeria’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has grown worse. This year, Nigeria ranked 120 out of 180 countries.

When the Lekki Massacre took place, the government was quick to deny it happened and tried to hide as much evidence as possible. Government owned radio and television stations were used to spread a different message, mostly targeted at the older generation, asking them to warn their children (citizens of voting age) from going out to protest during the EndSARS protests.

Two years from now, Nigerians are supposed to head to the polls, but that should not be our greatest concern. What happens between now and 2023 will determine if we’ll actually head to the polls and what kind of elections we’ll have. The focus right now should be on the attack the media is facing from this government and the tactics of legality it seeks to use.

The occupants of a burning house should not be distracted by the moans of a couple from another compound. The normalisation of VPNs has made many forget that the use of VPNs is a fundamental testimony on an attempt to gag our freedom of expression, and more importantly on a government that can’t stand accountability.

Every conversation and every topic should be centred on Nigeria’s shrinking civic space which will affect organisations like Enough is Enough, Tracka NG, and Amnesty Nigeria. But more importantly, how the current laws and rhetoric from government officials like Lai Mohammed will shape the lives of Nigerians in their early 20s for the next decade.

The criminalisation of speech, the control of what is considered truth in a country that’s never bothered to deal with its past, will be catastrophic. In short, the trend table on Twitter should reflect the seriousness with which we take this government’s attempt to shut down journalists, control what media houses can report, and what our possible future will be in this country.

If the Nigerian government, even slightly succeeds in using the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) or any other body to muzzle the press, that would be the beginning of a democratic dictatorship that would be rationalised as the new and better form of government.

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Published 25th Jun, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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