Soyinka Spurns Hate Speech Bill As Instrument To Silence Criticisms

Wole Soyinka

Renowned playwright and Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, Thursday, described the proposed Hate Speech Bill in the National Assembly prescribing death sentence for offenders as an instrument to silence fierce criticisms and opposition in the country.

In his keynote address at the maiden edition of Ripples Nigeria Dialogue, titled “Rebuilding trust in a Divided Nigeria” in Lagos, Soyinka said: “The bill is to silence criticism and buy immunity so that their acts will not be exposed. This is coming at a time the world is trying to end capital punishment.”

He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop shedding unjust tears and deal with blood-thirsty terrorists unleashing mayhem in the country.

“I get impatient when I hear things like Buhari has failed to go and sympathise with the people of Benue, with the people of Nasarawa, with the people of Dapchi or wherever.

“Who needs sympathy? Is it sympathy that will reorder their broken lives? Is sympathy the issue? We are speaking here of one commodity that is fundamentally human deserving, justice.

“There should an internal measure to avoid a repeat. We are speaking here of a President that will respond with massive action and not showing up at the arena of human desecration to shed any unjust tears, but give orders that the bloodthirsty terrorists are brought to book.”

“The treatment of Nigerians by the military led me to relocating to a saner clime. I remember invading Obasanjo’s residence in Lagos and challenging him concerning the way Nigerians were being treated. It is a disgrace to us, as a nation. We have been left behind in nearly every field.

“There are lessons to be learned from the diaspora. We need to peep across the Atlantic to see how other countries have been faring,” he said.

Drawing illustrations from his paper, titled “From Miyetti to Haiti: Notes from a Solidarity Visit,” Soyinka stressed the need to end slavery in the society.

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The Nobel Laureate condemned what he described as the “poor and insensitive” language and commentary of the Minister of Defence, Mansur Ali, on the killings of armless villagers by marauding herdsmen.

“What did you expect them to do after their grazing routes had been blocked?” he quoted the minister as saying at that time.

“This is addressing people whose livelihood and lives have been taken by the herdsmen. It is of massacre and of those whose farmlands and properties have been destroyed by the herdsmen from Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, and Plateau states. Land grabbers are trying to take over people’s land that does not belong to them. Farmers are complaining daily of cattle’s overtaking their lands.

“Building trust requires frankness. We have to be very frank. Our problem is that we don’t look often in the mirror,” Soyinka stated

He encouraged Nigerian youths to resist the passage of the Hate Speech bill, adding that it was ironical for him to condemn the hate speech bill as he has received a litany of hate speeches and disparaging languages by Nigerians when he said he was not going to be in a community ruled by Donald Trump.

Soyinka said: “I received hate speeches and languages when I said I was not going to be part of the United States community. I was cursed and received hate speeches and now you want me to condemn the hate speech. I don’t want anybody to be hanged but I want them to be shamed. That is why I said I just want us to look in the mirror. I just want people to stop hate speeches.”

He also condemned the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, for his comments on why communities blocked grazing routes, and expect herdsmen not to react.

He lamented that the excuse of some herdsmen for invading some communities in the South was that Lake Chad had dried up.

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Soyinka noted that Nigeria was not the first country to experience natural disasters and that this was not an excuse to take guns to destabilize other peace-loving people in their communities.

“We have become laughing stocks in the eyes of the public. We have earned the term of a shithole. Nigeria is sick and empty. Some retrogressive forces won’t just stop. Everything Nigeria touches rusts,” he said.