Third term, Hate Speech bill and threats to democracy

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The Insight by Lateef Adewole

Few weeks ago, when Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in a public lecture, threw the “bombshell” about a probable plan of the President to seek a third term in office, many people were shocked, including me. My immediate reaction was to dismiss such notion. I opined that Mr. Falana was only exaggerating and overreacting to some incidents that happened then, many of which directly affected him.

That programme held few days after his client, Omoyele Sowore was granted bail by the court, he met the bail conditions but the DSS refused to release him. Mr. Falana has since been having running battle with the DSS since then till this moment, as I write this. I concluded that Falana’s opinion could not have been true. I could not have been more wrong as just days later, rumours of it began to filter into the public. Gradually, it gained traction and before you knew it, it became a national discuss on all social media platforms.

And now, a chieftain of the APC in the House of Representatives from Ebonyi state, Honourable Charles Oko Enya has instituted a case in the Federal High Court, Abakaliki, asking that the court should compel the National Assembly and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to remove the clause that limits the president’s and governors’ tenures to only two terms in office in the constitution. He said it is discriminatory, when compared with the parliaments.

As the Yorubas will say; “iriri s’agba imo” (experience is the best teacher). Given the decades of Mr. Falana in the trenches, involving human rights activism, both during the military regimes and civilian governments, he must have deciphered the surreptitious moves and seen the handwriting on the wall.

Every time I juxtaposed the current administration with that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and I concluded that they have too many things in common than that which distinguished them, my friends in APC and supporters of President Buhari will have none of it though. They always vehemently disagree with me, even in the face of the obvious. The rumour about the resurrection of a “third term agenda” further proved me right. It is quite unbelievable that after such move was rested twelve years ago, it could ever resurface.

Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN)
Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN)

The issue has generated so much noise that the main “actor” in the proposed “movie” in the person of President Buhari spoke out about it. During the NEC meeting of the APC, which took place last week Friday, he used the opportunity to refute the rumour. In his words: “I am not going to make the mistake of attempting a third term or whatever term. Besides age, I swore by the holy book I believe in that I will go by the constitution and the constitution says two terms”.

This was supposed to douse the tension generated by the third term issue but what happened? It gave another dimension into it. People accused the President of not being categorical that he will not do any third term ever, but only said since the constitution does not permit him. It was then inferred that, if the constitution can permit him (whichever way that happens), he might seek a third term. And the confusion continues. Few other actions within and without the Presidency continue to fuel it further.

The sudden institution of the court case by Honourable Enya set the ball rolling. Few weeks earlier, the Senate President, Lawan was reported to have said that; anything bill or nominations, that come from president Buhari will be given speedy attention and passage by the 9th assembly, as such things can only be for the good of Nigeria and Nigerians. Senator Lawan turned himself to an “arinu-rode” (soothsayer).

Ordinarily, hardly could any action of this 9th NASS surprise many Nigerians as far as issue that concerns the president are concerned, given the way the leaderships were “appointed” (sorry, elected), but to openly voice out such statement as credited to the senate president, was taking it too far. Many have labelled them as “rubber-stamp” National Assembly. They seem to be living up to that appellation, given the recent expeditious passage of the tax increase amendment bill, even when some senators complained on the floor, of not knowing or seeing the content of that bill. Senator Lawan overruled them and the bill passed into law.

So, if and when such proposition to remove the two term limit for the president and governors in the constitution comes, what will stop them from speedily passing it into law, even if there are disagreement from the citizens with it? Senator Lawan could see it as “being in the interest of Nigerians”.

So, despite the refutation by the President himself, why are people not taking his words for it? Well, it might be because it sounds like a familiar turf. There is what is called; plausible deniability. After all, up till date, former President Obasanjo still denies proposing or having any hand in the third term agenda that came up during the second term of his administration in 2007, despite copious evidences and testimonies from foot soldiers to the contrary.

So, it will not make any difference if President Buhari denies it while his goons continue to push such agenda as we are already seeing. It is a familiar process.

Thrown into the mix, was the anti-social media bill nicknamed “hate speech bill”, sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, representing Niger North senatorial district (I am still wondering if his constituency sent him to do so or he is doing that for other purposes). He has been defending that vigorously on different platforms, as if all the problems in Nigeria will disappeared once it becomes law. This was in difference to massive criticisms that have trailed such bill.

Senator Sabi Abdullahi proposed the Hate Speech Bill
Senator Sabi Abdullahi proposed the Hate Speech Bill

Just this Wednesday, there was a protest by civil society organisations to the NASS against the bill. Whether the assembly will heed the peoples’ call or not, remains to be seen, given that it has passed the second reading. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

The argument of the antagonists to the bill include that, we already have more than enough laws that take care of such proposal, like the cyber crime acts, laws on libel and defamation, and so on. Many have been punished and are still being punished under these laws now, whether “justly or not” is another hing. Again, they question who determines what hate speech is. Who will implement it?

Senator Sabi said another body will be established to handle all these, creating additional bureaucracies, when there are agitations to cut the existing ones to reduce wastages and costs of governance. These senators seem to be living in a different country. Can anyone blame them sha? They are paid their “unjustified and unjustifiable” humongous remunerations from the federation account as first line charge. Whatever happens to the rest of Nigerians is none of their business. They must and will always be paid, even if that is the only available fund.

Many are suspicious of the bill as a backdoor to miff any dissenting voice that may be raised against the third term agenda when it comes up and the likes. This administration has been hammering on the effects of the freedom that citizens enjoy on social media and have been making frantic efforts to curb it. So, this may just be it. And Senator Sabi may only be carrying the sacrificial lamb.

Citizens were being cowed from speaking up and voicing their opposition to the governments at all levels. Even before this bill, many people are currently being detained in different parts of Nigeria for one trump-up offence or another, which bothers on criticising the government at federal or state level, on social or electronic media. Sowore and Bakare are still languishing in detention, in spite of valid court order. This bill is to add salt and pepper to injury.

Watching the debate on the bill in the red chambers and the calibre of the people vehemently supporting it based on their antecedents, one can then understand better. One of such is Senator Abbo from Adamawa (the woman-beater senator). If not for the social media, would his atrocious behaviours of slapping and beating up that lady in the adult toy shop in Abuja, have come to limelight? Your guess is as good as mine.

To amend the constitution to accommodate third or more terms requires the two-third majority of the two chambers of national assembly and the two-third majority of 24 out of 36 state houses of assembly of the federation. Then from the blues, President Buhari invited the speakers of the 36 state houses of assembly to a meeting in the villa. That was unprecedented. If it was a coincidence, then it was too close for comfort. The insinuation was that, it was part of ground preparation for such bill to be passed at state levels, if and when it eventually comes.

However, in all of this, the destinies of Nigerians are in their hands. They must rise up and defend their country and constitution from being desecrated for selfish reasons. Any “wuruwuru” amendment to enthrone authocracy must be resisted. Unfortunately, there is no “politically savvy and strong” vice president as we had at the time of Obasanjo. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was instrumental to thwarting that third term agenda, with the support of the then senate and the opposition parties. All these are almost none-existent today.

The then opposition parties who fought against it is in government now, under whose the same third term has resurrected. People who rode to power on the back of vicious campaigns against previous administration through social media, print and electronic media, which were enabled by the freedom of speech as guaranteed by that same administration, are now doing everything to “kill” it. What a shame! “Those who ride on the back of a tiger, will end up in its belly”.

This current democracy which is now being put under threats, by many who now enjoy it, though they were nowhere to be found when others were fighting the military for it or they even supported the military then. Many died in the process, many maimed and many were ruined, while fighting to enthron this democracy. Their sacrifices can and should never be allowed to go in vain.

May God continue to guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter