The Emerging Logic of Free Speech
With Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election fast approaching, the political arena has been serenaded with intrigues from political actors. And at the forefront of this political ‘drama’ are the “Obi”dients and the “BATs” – the support groups of two Presidential aspirants, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), respectively.
Both camps have been at loggerheads over the candidacy of who should be the next arrowhead of the Nigerian Presidency. While these support groups have come out in their numbers to throw support behind their preferred candidate, a major concern seems to have erupted in the political space – the emerging logic of free speech.
Section 39 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 Constitution states that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information without interference.” By making this statement, the Constitution reaffirms, in a nutshell, the right to free expression for all citizens.
The Joke Silva Saga
In October 2022, veteran Nollywood actress Joke Silva posted a video of herself at a rally organized by the All Progressives Congress women in support of the party’s presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In the video, she also mentioned how the Lagos State First Lady, Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, was an alumnus of her alma mater.
This video sparked controversy among some Nigerians who accused Joke Silva of using her celebrity status to support a political candidate and possibly influencing her fans to do the same. Others argued that as a citizen, Joke Silva has the right to express her political views and support a candidate of her choice.
Regardless of the opinions on the matter, the incident highlights the importance of free speech and the right of citizens to express their political opinions without fear of persecution or discrimination. It is important for citizens to respect each other’s views, even if they disagree, and engage in civil and productive discussions to promote a healthy democracy.
The Brymo’s Attack on “Obi”dients
In August 2022, Nigerian music artist Brymo made a controversial statement on Twitter regarding supporters of the Labour Party’s Presidential aspirant, Peter Obi. Brymo referred to the supporters, who call themselves “Obi”dients,” as “a movement that screams disaster.” His statement received backlash from many social media users, with some accusing him of promoting hate speech and encouraging violence.
The use of derogatory language to describe political opponents or their supporters is not helpful in promoting a healthy political discourse. Instead, it can lead to divisiveness and hostility, which may fuel political tensions and unrest. It is important for individuals to avoid ad hominem attacks and focus on addressing the substance of political issues to promote productive political conversations.
Time for Social Media Regulation?
Recall that the Federal Government intended to present in the National Assembly a law that focuses on the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019 (commonly known as the Anti-Social Media Bill).
However, the vast majority of the Nigerian citizenry opposed the proposal because they believed it would restrict their right to free expression. However, recent events, such as assaults and counterattacks on users, suggest that social media platforms may need to be regulated.
Fostering Respectful Political Discourse
To maintain a healthy democracy, it is essential for citizens to engage in respectful and productive political discourse. While it is expected that disagreements will arise, the way these disagreements are addressed can make a significant difference in the quality of the conversation.
Avoiding Ad Hominem Attacks
One way to foster respectful political discourse is by avoiding ad hominem attacks. Instead of attacking a person’s character or motives, focus on addressing the substance of their argument. This approach can lead to a more fruitful exchange of ideas and helps prevent the conversation from devolving into a hostile environment.
Another important aspect of respectful political discourse is encouraging inclusivity. Recognizing that every individual has a unique perspective to contribute to the conversation can help create a more open and accepting environment for political discussions. By welcoming diverse opinions, we can better understand the various factors influencing political decisions and identify common ground for potential solutions.
Promoting Fact-Based Discussions
To ensure that political conversations are based on accurate information, it is important to promote fact-based discussions. Encourage the use of reputable sources and provide evidence to support claims. By engaging in evidence-based conversations, it is more likely that discussions will be productive and contribute to a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.
The Role of the Media
The media plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion and informing the public about political developments. As such, it is important for media outlets to prioritize responsible journalism and adhere to high ethical standards. This includes providing accurate and unbiased reporting, ensuring that all perspectives are represented, and avoiding sensationalism or the promotion of divisive rhetoric.
Supporting Independent Journalism
To promote a healthy political discourse, it is vital to support independent journalism. Independent media outlets can help provide a diverse range of perspectives and counterbalance the influence of mainstream media. By supporting independent journalism, we can ensure that all voices are heard and contribute to a more balanced and informative political discourse.
Everyone has the right to openly speak their mind on any subject, as the Constitution guarantees. However, this should be accomplished in a way that does not violate the rights or beliefs of others. It’s fine to have different opinions, but it’s pointless if those divergent viewpoints lead to comments that might inflame the situation or cause political unrest, fostering respectful political discourse is essential for a thriving democracy. By promoting inclusivity, avoiding ad hominem attacks, and encouraging fact-based discussions, we can contribute to a more productive and understanding political environment. Additionally, the media plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion, and supporting responsible journalism is key to ensuring accurate and unbiased information is disseminated. By adopting these practices, we can work towards a more inclusive and respectful political climate in Nigeria and beyond.