he chilling pronouncement by former Ugandan President Idi Amin, “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech,” stands as a testament to the times when leaders metamorphosed from revolutionaries to dictators.
This eerily seems to be resonating in Nigeria as the democratic pillars that ought to protect freedoms begin to shake.
The Shadows of History
Africa’s past is not bereft of dictatorial rule, as leaders transformed from liberators to oppressors. Idi Amin, who once brought hope to Ugandans, later symbolised their terror. His words, uttered decades ago in a different nation, now find echoes in Nigeria. While the continents and regimes differ, the underlying issue remains eerily similar: curbing fundamental freedoms in the name of governance.
Nigeria, with its historical struggles for democracy and freedom, now sees the shadows of its past revisiting. A nation that once rejoiced in the end of military rule faces the spectre of a totalitarian regime. This is even more unsettling as it’s happening under the leadership of a ‘converted democrat’ who once toppled a democratically elected government.
The Arrests and Curtailing Dissent
Omoyele Sowere’s arrest on August 3, 2019, is a bleak reminder of the growing intolerance towards dissent. While the treason charges were levelled against him, the boundaries of this treason remain blurred. This arrest was not isolated. Figures like Nnamdi Kanu and El-Zakzaky faced similar fates, indicating a pattern.
The nature of these arrests and the subsequent justification by the DSS raises concerns over the freedom of speech. A democratic nation’s strength lies in its diversity of thought. By suppressing these thoughts, the government isn’t just clamping down on dissent but also on the very ideals that define a democratic society.
Protests: A Democratic Right?
The ‘#RevolutionNow’ tag is a call to action, mirroring the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ movement of 2012. This movement was pivotal in ushering President Buhari into power. The current government’s stance against similar protests underscores the glaring irony of the situation.
The inconsistency in the government’s reaction to public sentiment is telling. On one hand, protests which paved the way for its ascent to power are celebrated. On the other, similar protests during its tenure are branded as treason. This duality highlights the hypocrisy and the underlying fear of being held accountable.
Selective Freedom and Bias
The selective nature of the government’s reaction to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria compared to other groups presents a biased image. While certain groups enjoy the privilege of making explosive statements without consequences, others face severe backlash for expressing their views.
This selectivity raises questions about the sanctity of freedom of speech. Is freedom of speech only reserved for those in line with the government’s views? Or is it a universal right that every citizen should enjoy?
Democracy or a Facade?
The essence of democracy is not just in elections but in upholding the rights and freedoms of its citizens. By clamping down on the freedom of speech and expression, the government is undermining the very foundation of democracy.
Moreover, a nation as diverse as Nigeria cannot and should not aim for a uniform perspective on governance. The strength of a democracy lies in its ability to accommodate diverse voices, ensuring holistic and inclusive growth.
Nigeria stands at a pivotal juncture in its democratic journey. The path it chooses now will determine its future. As the rights of its citizens are threatened, the people must remember the true essence of democracy and champion their right to freedom of speech.