One of the major bedrocks of democracy is the freedom of speech and information. A civilian is different from a military personnel because he can say anything he likes about those in authority over him. By authority, this article implies that he can speak his mind about those in elected positions of authority. This means that while I can tell the head of state of my country that “you are stupid” a military officer is prohibited from doing such and can be sanctioned for such acts. In a democratic society, a citizen can question the sanity, integrity, temperament, financial and moral state of an individual whois a politically exposed person. I can say “look at the car of Mr Odin’s wife, are you sure he did not steal our money to buy it?” or “ look at the car of Mr Odin’s wife, considering the amount of money they both earn, I am sure Mr Odin is stealing our money” these accusation of theft can be made without hard evidence against a political personality because he/she has put himself in a position where his character can be scrutinized. Mr Odin’s professional life (as a governor, senator, councilor etc) protects the speaker of such accusations from the offence of defamation. This means that a statement that can normally be construed as defamatory can be defended by saying that “the man who you claim I am defaming, is in a position of trust over my money, and so I have a right to question the way he executes his job and he has a duty of accountability.
The Duty of Accountability.
It really is unfortunate that most citizens do not hold the government of the day accountable to the duties they owe the society. Let me use a caption of the Nigerian constitution as an example.
The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.
S.22 OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION
The next question to answer is this, what are the fundamental objectives that the media should be free to uphold. A quick research into the objectives that the media should be free to uphold includes ensuring that the government and its institutions reflects the federal character of Nigeria and promotes national unity, ensures that there is no predominance of people from a particular state or ethnic group, ensuring the government harnesses the resources of the state and utilizes it in a way that it leads to a self-reliant economy, ensure that Minimum wage, pensions, Health benefits for the sick and allowance for the unemployed is provided, ensure the equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law, ensure that the sanctity of the human person and human dignity is maintained amongst others ( Kindly read the provisions of Chapter Two of the Nigerian Constitution Here)
Fortunately, the development of technology has expanded the concept of mass media to an extent that the flow of information and the call for political accountability now goes beyond a few media houses that can easily be controlled and crippled by a corrupt government. Every person can in themselves constitute a mass media, this is a power given to all citizens by the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp of today’s world. People can easily question the activities of the government before a wide audience and the government can easily be coerced into being accountable to the people.
I am not unaware that in our world today, the ease of information dispensation is a double edged sword. On the positive side, shady activities can easily be brought to the limelight. People can easily criticize their leaders before a large audience and the positive or negative actions of a political figure can spread to the electorate within minutes, however, fake news is easy to spread also. False information can easily be dispatched to the public, this is done not only through the recent social media sites and blogs but also through the known news agencies ( recall the claims by the President of the United States of America on his Twitter handle where he referred to news by the popular television station CNN as fake news). However, like most experienced democracies know, ‘you should not throw away the baby with the bath water’ therefore old democratic countries never attempt to limit the freedom of speech of its citizens.
Nigeria’s attempts to limit the freedom of speech in its country. This has come under the disguise a bill meant to prohibit hate speech S. 4 of this bill states thus.
This implies that if this bill is passed, an individual might have to endure life imprisonment or death for saying this on facebook “ why would the president build a refinery in his village when there is no crude oil in his village. That is foolish of him and a waste of our resources. It is meant to take our resources and use it for the benefit of his people’. This bill goes against the very foundation of democracy. Lets all say No!! while we still can.