In his first outing as military Head of State, between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985, Major General Muhammadu Buhari did not hide his disdain or hatred for freedom of speech and for journalistic practice in particular.

That was why he did not waste time soon after ousting the civilian administration led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, to progulmate the notorious Decree No. 4 of 1984.

Under the decree, it was an offence for any person or any journalist to publish or broadcast any story which could offend or embarrass any public officer, whether that story is true or false.

Notwithstanding the protestations by well meaning Nigerians, the Buhari military junta went ahead to implement the draconian decree. 

Consequently, two Nigerian journalists from the stable of The Guardian Newspapers, Messrs Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were sent to jail and their newspaper house, fined for violating the decree. 

The twosome were only released  following the overthrow of the Buhari regime in August 1985 by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.

The promulgation of Decree No. 4 by the Buhari military administration had greatly instilled fear and uncertainty in the minds of Nigerian journalists. 

As a result, many of them begin to practice what came to be known as “survival journalism”, you can write or say  anything provided the government is not mentioned, while some others sought solace in “Afghanistanism”, a mental picture of travelling to far away Afghanistan to freely discuss the regime in that country without discussing what is happening in your own country. It was indeed a very dark period for Nigerian journalists and the Nigerian people in general.

Thanks to the current democratic governance and the strong legislative arm of government that is keeping him in check, we know that if Buhari had his way, he would have resuscitated the notorious Decree No. 4 to curtail the freedom of speech by Nigerians. 

That’s why they are now coming up with the so-called “Hate Speech Bill” now lying before the National Assembly.

According to reports, the bill will seek to criminalize any person or persons convicted of hate speech, which is punishable by death sentence. 

But we must all say NO to the Hate Speech Bill. Buhari wants to smuggle in the notorious Decree 4 through the back door. The Nigerian Constitution has guaranteed us freedom of speech and we must guard it very jealously.

How can Buhari now begin to talk about hate speech when he himself was the author and chief sponsor of hate speeches? Has forgotten all he had said during the Jonathan administration that led to the killing of National Youth Service Corps members in Bauchi in 2011. 

Now that the table seems to turn against him, he has begun to talk about criminalizing hate speech. Let him first criminalize Fulani herdsmen that are raping and butchering innocent farmers.


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