, 04 December, 2019 / 12:19 AM
A Nigerian Catholic Bishop has joined his compatriots who are campaigning against a proposed bill seeking to regulate citizen engagement on social media terming the attempt a “short walk to totalitarianism” in Africa’s most populous country.
“This Bill is redundant, stale, superfluous and a fraud,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto diocese expressed his outright rejection of the proposed bill in a statement published by the Catholic News Service of Nigeria November 27.
“We will fight it with all our energy. It is rotten yoghurt being marketed beyond its expiration date. We should reject it as a totalitarian attempt to circumscribe our hard-earned freedom,” Bishop Kukah stated, lamenting that the proposed bill does not seek “to punish those who offend, but those who offend the government or those in government.”
The Nigerian Senate on Tuesday, November 5 re-introduced the ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’ that will regulate the use of social media in the west African nation. The bill was first considered in 2015 but failed to pass into law after public outcry.
The bill prohibits statements on social media “likely to be prejudicial to national security” and “those which may diminish public confidence” in Nigeria’s government.
The bill also seeks to “allow law enforcement agencies to order internet service providers to disable internet access.”
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has been quoted telling local media, “The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors and their members have more to gain with the Federal Government’s plan to sanitise the social media space.”
Reacting to the government official’s remarks, Bishop Kukah stated, “the recent outrage by the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed over public reaction to the Social Media Bill, is illustrative of the point I am making, namely, that not all who call themselves democrats appreciate the enormous burden that goes with the claim today.”
“Mr. Mohammed has climbed a moral high horse, claiming that he is motivated by higher and noble values of protecting the rest of us from a hovering scarecrow of evil, the social media. This is a low-level fence erected to hide the construction of a wall of tyranny, fascism and totalitarianism,” Bishop Kukah who is also the Episcopal Chair for the Commission, Mission & Dialogue at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) added in his statement.
While acknowledging the dangers posed by social media, the Nigerian Prelate posed, “Should the government wish to address this matter legally and openly, why should they be afraid of a public debate? When did social media become sinister in the eyes of the government? Is it after the same government used it that they now realize that it was good for them, but bad for the rest of us now?”
In his statement, the Church leader has proposed that the dangers posed by the social media be addressed “by way of education, open debate and transfer of knowledge.”
“We must all concede that technology is here to stay. All we can do is to try to make it work for us,” he reiterated.
In his considered view, “the future of employment lies there (social media) and all we need to do is to extend the frontiers of the imagination of our youth to enable them explore a future that can make us safer and prosperous.”
“We know that fire burns and people drown in water. Should we therefore restrict the usage of water and fire or should we sit the children down and explain the dangers inherent in the goodness of water and fire?” he probed.
“Our real challenge is the shame that now afflicts us due to years and years of neglect. A people so badly governed will use anything to express their frustration and sadly, this is what makes us all victims of hate speech,” Bishop Kukah said.
“The greatest expression of hate is those who use the power in their hands to divide us by favoring or excluding others based on religion, gender, political affiliation or social class. They are the real reason why our people have remained diminished.” the Nigerian Prelate decried.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa