Freedom of expression

Freedom of Expression in Nigeria: Balancing Rights and Responsibilities

by Aiyepe Ayishat

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, valued globally as a foundation of democracy and independence. It is defined as the right to freely express one’s thoughts, opinions and ideas without government restriction or hindrance.

Like in many other countries, Nigeria preserves this right in the Constitution. However, the razor’s edge between the right to freedom of expression and societal responsibilities remains a persistent problem.

This article sheds light on the right to freedom of expression and how to balance it with civic responsibilities.

What is Freedom of Expression? 

Freedom of expression, as defined by international standards and Nigeria’s Constitution, is the right to voice one’s opinions, beliefs and ideas openly. It includes numerous types of communication, including speech, writing, art and other types of artistic expression. This right enables individuals to engage in political discussion, demand accountability and contribute to free exchange of ideas.

The Right to Freedom of Expression in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Constitution, in Section 39, pledges freedom of expression to its citizens. It states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” 

This constitutional protection emphasizes the significance of this right in Nigeria’s democratic system. It was also encouraged by international treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

While the right is fundamental, it is not unrestricted. Limitations can be placed on speech to shield national defence, civil order or the freedom and honour of others. However, these limitations must be fair, essential and justified. 

Challenges to Freedom of Expression in Nigeria

Below are some of the challenges to freedom of expression in Nigeria:

  1. Restriction

Despite constitutional protections, there have been cases of speech suppression and press constraints in Nigeria. Laws like the Cybercrime Act and the National Broadcasting Code have been condemned for their possibility to suppress freedom of expression.

  1. Intimidation and aggression

Journalists and activists often face hostility and harm when stating contrary opinions or unmasking dishonesty. These menacing behaviours create a climate of terror that restrains free discussion.

  1. Prejudiced speech and provocation

The rise of offensive language and the instigation of cruelty through different platforms is an intensifying problem. While freedom of expression is essential, there is a need to tackle the abuse of this right to instigate hostility and brutality.

  1. Immunity

Culprits of violent acts against journalists often go unpenalized, creating a climate of terror.

  1. Web surveillance

Generalized surveillance can calm the internet expression. Stricter security measures are needed to guard cyber liberties.

Promoting Freedom of Expression in Nigeria

Balancing freedom of expression with civic duties is vital for a peaceful society. Below are some methods to promote this stability:

  1. Education

Enlightening citizens about their rights and responsibilities regarding freedom of expression is important. This includes advocating for media literacy to differentiate reliable sources from misinformation.

  1. Judicial reforms

Freedom of expression can also be promoted through examining and modifying existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, ensuring they meet international human rights standards.

  1. Public enlightenment

The public should be enlightened about their rights and responsibilities regarding freedom of expression to promote a culture of civil discourse.

  1. Dialogue and debate

Meaningful discourse among citizens, communities and the government to tackle grievances and concerns should be supported.

  1. Access to information

Government transparency and the Right to Information Act can enable citizens to make well-considered choices and ensure responsibility.

  1. Media regulation

Cultivating an equitable regulatory system that guarantees media press freedom while stopping the dissemination of hate speech and misinformation is important. This regulatory agency should be unbiased and honest.

  1. Protection of journalists

Implementing laws to defend journalists and activists from harassment and brutality. Also, examining and charging those responsible for attacks on freedom of expression.

  1. Promote civic engagement

Encourage civic engagement and open dialogue. Create platforms for citizens to express their concerns and engage with policymakers constructively.

  1. Judicial independence

An independent judiciary can safeguard freedom of expression by ensuring fair treatment in cases of alleged infringements.

  1. Counter hate speech

Implement measures to counter hate speech and incitement to violence while respecting the right to freedom of expression. This may include public awareness campaigns and swift legal action against those inciting violence.

  1. International cooperation

Collaborate with international organizations and partners to strengthen freedom of expression mechanisms, learn from global best practices and uphold international standards.

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Balancing Rights and Responsibilities

  1. Media responsibility

Media outlets play a critical role in shaping public opinion. They must adhere to ethical standards, report accurately and avoid sensationalism. The Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission should regulate media to ensure responsible reporting.

  1. Curtail hate speech and incitement

While freedom of expression allows for dissent and criticism, hate speech and incitement to violence must be curtailed. Nigeria has laws against hate speech, but their enforcement must respect the right to free expression.

  1. Censorship and internet freedom

The government’s role in regulating online content is a contentious issue. While some regulation may be necessary to curb harmful content, it should not be used to suppress dissent.

  1. National security

While freedom of expression is crucial, it can be limited to protect national security. Words that incite violence or threaten the nation’s integrity may be subject to restrictions. Striking the right balance here is essential to prevent abuses of power.

  1. Political expression

Political discourse is at the heart of democracy. Citizens must be free to express their political views, but they also have a responsibility to do so respectfully and within the bounds of the law.

  1. Role of government

While the government has to protect national security and public order, it must do so without infringing on freedom of expression. Laws and regulations should be clear and narrowly tailored to address specific concerns.

Conclusion

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that plays a significant role in any flourishing democracy. In Nigeria, it is preserved in the Constitution but faces difficulties such as censorship, threats and hate speech.

Balancing this right with societal responsibilities is important to ensure a peaceful and informed society. Promoting education, media regulation, protection of journalists, civic engagement, and countermeasures against hate speech are key steps toward achieving this balance in Nigeria.

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Oluwanifemi Akintomide edited this article.

About Author

Avatar of Aiyepe Ayishat
Aiyepe Ayishat
Aiyepe Ayishat is an author of several unpublished articles. She is mainly into writing and editing. In her free time, she likes to read, make motivating videos, obsess over music, practice new writing skills and watch movies. Aiyepe Ayishat resides in Lagos, Nigeria. She is currently studying Electronics and computer engineering in Lagos State University.

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