A former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria has been released on bail from the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) in Jos, Plateau State, following a 6-hour interrogation session on comments he had made during an interview.
Dr Obadiah Mailafia had been invited to visit the DSS office at 12pm on 12 August, where he was arrested on account of a Skype interview in which he had spoken candidly about the reasons for the current violence in southern Kaduna, and the infiltration of extremists of Fulani ethnicity across the country, including in southern Nigeria.
During the 55 minute interview on Lagos-based media house Nigeria Info’s programme Morning Crossfire on 11 August Dr Mailafia had spoken, amongst other things, of the evolution of the violence in southern Kaduna, asserted that the Nigerian authorities were both unable and unwilling to protect the people there, and concurred with retired General TY Danjuma, who had stated in May 2018 that the security forces were colluding with the perpetrators of attacks on farming communities.
Dr Mailafia denounced those promoting the narrative that the violence is attributable to ‘farmer-herder violence’ as “accessories to genocide,” adding that he had been informed by repentant extremists that a current northern governor is the “commander of Boko Haram in Nigeria.” He also contended that Boko Haram and the armed bandits were “one and the same thing; they have a sophisticated network,” and intend to ignite a civil war in 2022.
Following his release, Dr Mailafia addressed waiting supporters and Nigerian media, describing his conversation with the DSS as “lively and intense.” He stood by his assertions, insisting he was “not a sensationalist” but a “humanist and a man of peace” who abhors the relentless violence in southern Kaduna and elsewhere in the country. Dr Mailafia stated: “The most elementary duty of government is to protect its citizens, and when a government fails to protect its citizens, to protect little children, that is a serious matter,” adding: “I love Nigeria. Like Mandela, let me say, if need be, I am prepared to give up my life for Nigeria.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “It is most concerning that Dr Mailafia has been interrogated simply for speaking candidly about the ongoing violence in southern Kaduna. Not only does this represent a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, but it is another worrying indicator of the Nigerian authorities desire to silence meaningful conversation on the situation. We urge the Nigerian government to cease all harassment of Dr Mailafia, and to focus instead on addressing the violence in southern Kaduna, which, along with the burgeoning insecurity in the country, poses an existential threat to the nation.”
On the same day as Dr Mailafia’s interrogation, Nigerian media reiterated a 2014 telephone interview in which Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff General Onyeabor Azubuike Ihejirika (Ret.d) claimed that Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai is Boko Haram’s sponsor.
Meanwhile, reports are emerging that Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) may have begun moves to penalise Nigeria Info in connection to Dr Mailafia’s interview, which it has allegedly deemed to be “hate speech.”
On 11 August the Federal Government unveiled the Reviewed Broadcasting Code, which raised the fine for “hate speech” from N500,000 (around £989.00) to N5 million (around £9892.00). However, Nigeria is yet to formulate a legal definition of hate speech. Additionally, a controversial “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill”, sponsored by Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate Aliyu Abdullahi, which prescribes the death penalty in cases where “hate speech” is deemed to have resulted in loss of life, is yet to become law .
On 22 July protestors marched on the Nigeran National Assembly demanding the withdrawal of both the Hate Speech Bill and a pending Social Media Bill, and urging senators not to “robe the executive and allied political forces with excessive and Draconian powers, but to protect democracy and safeguard the constitution.”
Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution asserts that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold […] uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
Mervyn Thomas added: “Given the absence of a definition of hate speech in Nigerian law, suggestions that Dr Mailafia’s interview constitutes hate speech are perplexing, as well as inaccurate. We urge the Nigerian authorities to recognise and respect the constitutional responsibilities of news agencies to hold it to account. The Nigerian government must also ensure that any laws formulated to criminalise hate speech are strictly defined in order to prevent malicious prosecutions, and that they fully respect the right to freedom of expression, whilst also bringing genuine purveyors of hate speech to justice.”