FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT – By Senator Akon Eyakenyi, PhD

Nigeria is ours and we are the only people responsible to make Nigeria work. Our heroes fought for Nigeria’s survival and we owe them a duty to ensure that their labour shall never be in vain.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nigerian constitution – Section 39. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights further guarantees the right to receive information and the right to express and disseminate opinions within the law. These indeed are the necessary ingredients that sustain a democratic system and going against same amounts to degenerating to dictatorship.

Nigeria has more than sufficient laws to take care of what the proposed “PROHIBITION OF HATE SPEECH BILL” and the “INTERNET FALSEHOOD AND MANIPULATION BILL” purport to check. The Penal Code, Criminal Code and CyberCrimes Act of 2015 – Section 24 have more than sufficient laws to tackle whatever crime anticipated to be checked by the above proposed pieces of legislation. As regards the social media, the CyberCrimes Act specifically provides for punishment as severe as seven million naira (N7,000,000.00) or imprisonment for 3 years or both. There is therefore no justification for overflogging issues that are already adequately taken care of by our laws.

I must however state that our problem does not lie in lawmaking but law enforcement and implementation. What we need most as a country is ensuring that the various law enforcement agencies carryout their duties as they ought to.

The good people of Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District believe that democracy thrives on free speech and citizens’ freedom to express their opinions on how best they feel they should be governed. The mandates we hold as senators are in trust for the people and the powers we exercise are delegated by the people with whom power resides.

Therefore, any attempt to shut up and threaten the owners of the mandate from freely holding their opinions in line with our laws shall strongly be resisted by me.

The ECOWAS Court of Justice and the African Court of Human Rights have in the past declared similar attempts as illegal. Across the globe, infringements on human rights and free press is condemnable.

We must therefore be careful not to portray ourselves as a country that is sliding into intolerance and, we must not allow the rights we fought for and won to be abrogated by misconceived opinions.

I therefore condemn in the strongest terms, the proposed pieces of legislation which in my judgement are not in the best interest of our image as Africa’s Big Brother. Let it be on record that I stand against these bills and that my constituents reject them in totality.

Death penalty as canvassed by one of the proposals is without argument outrageous and such dangerous signal must not be sent out to the international community about our human rights records.

I want to equally condemn the gruesome murder of Late Mrs. Salome Abuh, the Ochadamu Ward Woman Leader of the PDP in Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi State. I am lost for words to describe such barbarism and inhumanity in the name of politics and quest for power.

The uncivilised and unthinkable treatment meted on Barr. Natasha Apoti, the Governorship Candidate of the SDP in the Kogi governorship election is very unfortunate, distasteful and regrettable. Barr. Natasha Apoti is a national asset and a citizen of Nigeria with full rights to seek any elective office in the land and does not deserve such degrading treatment. As a woman, I feel so sad and ashamed that such discrimination and violence can be perpetrated against women in the present day Nigeria. This is nothing but a calculated attempt to harass and intimidate woman out of the politics and governance of our dear country and every sane Nigerian must rise to the occasion by condemning this broad day evil.

Our democracy must be built on the rule of law and the security agencies owe the Nigerian state the duty and responsibility of guaranteeing safety of lives and property. Electoral violence must be handled with the severest punishment possible to safeguard the sanctity of our electoral process.

We must not allow anybody to take any political office through shedding the blood of any Nigerian and wanton destruction of their properties. Beneficiaries and sponsors of electoral violence must be made to forfeit any position for which such crimes were committed and they must be brought to account in line with our laws.

I commiserate with the family of the slain PDP Woman Leader and others who lost their relatives and loved ones in the unfortunate incidents during the Kogi and Bayelsa elections. I equally sympathise with Barr. Natasha Apoti and many others who were harassed, embarrassed, molested, intimidated and assaulted in the just concluded Kogi and Bayelsa elections. Never again should we witness such criminality and assault on our democracy.

The perpetrators and sponsors of the murders and violence in Kogi and Bayelsa state must be brought to book to serve as deterrent to others. Women must be protected from all forms of violence and discrimination and democracy must not be allowed to slip from our hands because of anybody’s crude quest for power.

May God help us to navigate through the many odds attending our path to a free, safe, egalitarian and democratic society.

Senator Akon Eyakenyi, PhD, is the Senator representing Akwa Ibom South in the National Assembly.