Hate speech, fake news threaten Nigeria’s unity, but death penalty too extreme –– Momoh

Widespread condemnations have continued to trail the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and Other Related Offences Bill, currently before the National Assembly.

But a worried former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh as said that any serious Nigerian must be concerned about the dimension that fake news, hate speeches and unguarded social media activities are taking, and their possible consequences on the country’s corporate existence.

He also dismissed insinuations that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and or the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari were the brains behind the controversial bills, with the main aim of suppressing press freedom and freedom of expression, after the massive media support, which enabled it to wrest power from the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015.

He tasked media professionals to ensure that charlatans do not soil the integrity of their profession, stressing that the development poses serious challenges to the integrity of the media and its professionals.

In an exclusive interview with The Guardian Momoh said: “It is unfair to assume that APC and, or President Buhari is the brains behind the bills. They are privately sponsored bills that have nothing to do with either the party or the government.

“However, I am of the view that media professionals should also express concerns over the way that non-media practitioners or professionals (bloggers) are disseminating news at the expense of the unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria, and or individuals. Although, the death penalty is going to the extreme, at the same time it is not what any reasonable government can fold its arms and allow it to jeopardise the security of the country.”

When asked why the ruling party is now frowning at activities of bloggers and the so-called hate speeches when it allegedly benefited from such in the past, Momoh retorted; “was the situation in 2014/2015 as bad as it is now? How did President Muhammadu Buhari suddenly turn to Jubril from Sudan? How did some people come about the news that Buhari was dead? And what are the basic facts to support the news that the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo collected N90b from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for electioneering.

“We should also be concerned about comments from the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and others. I am just using these few examples but there are numerous cases of individuals whose reputation, businesses and careers have been deliberately destroyed due to unrestricted activities on social media and hate speech. It is when you are a victim that you can understand the gravity and how dangerous the trend is, especially now that millions of messages can be disseminated instantaneously through various means on social media.

The APC chieftain said he has always been in support of a free press as far as it is based on facts and figures. “It is the duty of the media to serve as the watchdog of any government, and to also expose whatever the government is doing that is against the interest of the citizens, as long as there are facts to back the story. My position is that the media should also go-ahead to publish the facts and damn the consequences. Many countries have been dragged into war because of fake news.

“It is also untrue that Buhari is trying to use the bills to prepare the ground ahead of his planned third term ambition. What I am sure of is the incumbent is never the type that would nurse a third term ambition, not to even talk of preparing ground for it.”On preparation for the 2023 presidential election, the APC’s stalwart disagreed that plans for yet another presidential election barely seven months into Buhari’s second term is capable of distracting the government from performing.

He said: “I don’t see that as an issue that can shift Buhari’s focus from doing what he planned to do or achieve, and there is also nothing wrong in anyone aspiring to become president. It is the fundamental right of any Nigerian, who thinks he or she meets the constitutional requirements to rule Nigeria.

On the feud between the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki ahead of the 2020 Guber race, Momoh said there was nothing extraordinary and unresolvable about it.

According to him, “One of the factors worsening the crisis in Edo, especially between Obaseki and Oshiomhole is fake news. For instance, it was not true that Oshiomohole orchestrated the recent defection of the PDP stalwart, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in the 2016 gubernatorial election to contest the APC ticket for 2020 with Obaseki. This is another fake news and you can see the implications.

“But I can assure you as a stakeholder from the state, the various publications you read on social media are strange to the parties involved. I’m not saying there are no issues because politics is about crisis and the way it is managed, but with necessary communication, the feud between Oshiomhole and Obaseki will be amicably resolved before 2020.”

The former minister, however, disclosed that he had forewarned the 14 lawmakers whose seats were declared vacant in the Edo State Assembly about the danger inherent in staying outside the Assembly to fight.

“They were supposed to have moved into the Assembly and got sworn in and from there do whatever infighting they could. To stay outside or stay in Abuja was a tactical error, which the minority that claimed to form the quorum is capitalising on.”

Momoh, who said the crisis could cost the party the state, alleged that the opposition “PDP in Edo is not also on ground to take advantage of anything. This is my respite.”

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