By UCHE CHRIS
The 9th National Assembly is facing the toughest challenge of its short life as public opposition gathers steam over some of its policies considered undemocratic and anti people. For the first since this government came to power in 2015, it has found itself on the wrong side of public opinion and it seems the divorce is irreconcilable.
Given the controversies that trailed the national elections in March 2019 in general and the election of the leadership of the National Assembly, most people had opted to give them the benefit of doubt until proved otherwise as this being the second and last term of the government. Although there have been issues of executive lawlessness over the disobedience of court orders and the recently held Kogi and Bayelsa elections, the NASS seems to have over reached itself with these bills which have further incensed frayed nerves and sensibilities.
The bills are the Finance bill which has raised the rate of Value Added Tax, VAT, from the 30 year introduction rate of five percent to 7.5 percent; the Social Media bill intended to curb the use and operations of the social media, such as Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram ec; and the Anti- Hate Speech bill, introduced by senate majority Chief Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, aimed according the sponsors to stamp out hate speech and falsehood being perpetrated through the social media.
Many people believe the bill may not as much the problem as the timing. Although the opposed the bills because of its unintended consequences, as it could empower the executive to deprive people of the freedom of speech, the timing is inauspicious and dangerous. President Buhari is holding the judiciary to ransom especially the the invasion of homes of justices and the dishonourable treatment meted to the former CJN, Justice Walter Onoghene, about 46 court orders have been disobeyed by the government according to Amnesty International.
Such is an obvious trait of dictatorship. Although the NASS is decidedly pro-executive and has been straining to ingratiate itself to the executive, the bills are definitely hard for the people to swallow. Some opponents allege that the bills were conceived to favour the president as a result of the viral rumour of his taking a second wife, which incidentally the sponsors cited as one of the infractions of the media.
Opponents of the Finance bill which has been passed by the NASS argue that it is inhuman and bad economics to raise taxes in a time of depression because it will further worsen the economic situation and send more Nigerians into the poverty gulag. Already Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world with about 91 million of the 200 million people living under extreme poverty of less than 42 per day. Private sector operators such as LCCI, NECA, and economists fault the bill because it will increase cost of production and therefore raise prices and consequently inflation in the immediate and short term.
But it the social media bills that have stoked the fire against NASS and may be the tipping point for opposition against this government for its many ‘sin’. Renowned lawyer and founder Afe Babalola University, Chief Afe Babalola, did not mince words about the social media bills.
‘It is the making of dictatorship; we have enough laws to deal with falsehood and hate speech, and we don’t need a specially forbidding falsehood”, he told journalists in his office.
Also Gov. Akeredolu of Ondo state, a former NBA president, faulted the bill in its entirety. “A president of the Bar, I stood against capital punishment, and this bill prescribes one. I will not be a turn coat to support what I once fought against. It must go completely”, he said.