“It curtails the possibility of an open society” – Soyinka reacts to hate speech bill

by on December 10, 2019

Prof Wole Soyinka has opened up on why he is against the controversial hate speech which made it to the floor of the Nigerian senate. 

The Nobel Laureate who spoke in Abuja at a summit to mark the United Nations International Anti- Corruption Day, said he will be the last person to support any idea terminating a recourse to information even though he has been a victim of hate news and fake news. 

He said: 

“We all are disgusted with fake news, hate news, destabilising and toxic news, but let’s ask ourselves seriously what we think we are doing if we start chopping off the heads of those whom we considered to have offended our sensibilities, either as individuals or as institutions, especially if such actions terminate the possibility of free expression, even though sometimes there is abuse of that expression.

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“I stand here as one of those individuals who have been most affected by hate news, fake news, even to the extent that I had my identity stolen, abused and used in all kinds of ways, against what I really believe in.

“But I’ll be the last person to support any idea of terminating a recourse to information simply because some people abuse the means of that and the answer to that is people or put them before a firing squad.

“When you take a combination, therefore, of a major principle, almost core security institution, you take that side by side with that of a legislative house, it curtails the possibility of an open society and looks as if we have all been put in a slave plantation.”

He pointed out that Nigerians might be unjustly punished by security agencies if the bill is passed into law. According to him, proposal of a capital punishment for hate speech is an attempt to take away free speech from Nigerians. 

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Soyinka continued: 

“For instance, if the DSS is accused tomorrow of corruption, the DSS will say this is hate speech, off with its head and then maybe when we get to court and the judge grants the poor felon a temporary reprieve to bail, any security agency can then jump in the court, re-arrest the felon, break into the citadel of justice and say ‘we are re-arresting this individual because he’s indulged in hate speech’.

“Let us be careful in our responses to failures of society and make sure that we are not cutting off our noses to spite our faces”. 

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Soyinka also lashed out at the Nigerian government for using the word “revolution” as its frontline charge in the prosecution of #RevolutionNow convener, Omoyele Soyinka. 

He added: 

“Am I going to be thrown in jail right away because the word revolution frightens some people?

“Go through history. Cuba, Soviet Union, China, Zimbabwe and so on, anytime there is the mention of the word revolution, one of the reasons cited is the commitment towards the eradication of corruption.

“So really revolution, whether revolution now or soon or next or in the future, is always tied up with what is rotten in the society, to which we give the general name of corruption and this is not a mere generalised statement.”

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