Interview: We Sh’ld Not Criminalise Fake News, Says Senator Adokwe

Senator Suleiman Asonya Adokwe represents Nasarawa South Senatorial District in the senate where he is Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Culture and National Orientation. In this interview with journalists at the Plateau state council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, he spoke on burning national and global issues, particularly, the issue of fake news and how to curb it. Yakubu Busari, Jos was there for Thisage.


What is your take on the recent defections across parties at the National Assembly?

The first thing we should consider at all is if the Constitution did contemplate that people should defect, and provided the conditions under which you can defect. That means that it is something that Constitution even contemplated that people in the normal way of politicking are likely to be disenchanted, they can be disagree and find their ways out on other platforms. So the Constitution provided for that. But there are parameters under which you can do.

Again, because that right is very, very desirable the same Constitution made it only the purview of the presiding officers in the National Assembly to declare such seats vacant. It is only the Senate President and the speaker of House of Representatives that can declare any seat vacant. It means that the right to defect is well protected, so I do not see reason why people disturb themselves over this issue. This thing happened every four years and it is always an outcome of local politics.

What people are saying is that the defectors are doing so for their personal interest not for the interest of the electorates who voted them into office 

Any interest is vested! You that are standing for election know what your people want. If you defecting because of your own personal interest than remember you are going to face the electorate. And so the person who is defecting is not stupid. He knows that at the end of the day he will go and face the voters and he knows that if the voters don’t like the party he wound not do it.

Nobody politician does that as if it is for a Christmas party. It is the reflection of what is going on at their various constituencies. Don’t forget the Constitution said you must stand for election on the platform of a political party. But most voters cast their ballot vote for who would stand for election at the end of the day.

Do you think the development is healthy to our democracy with massive detection all over and then in another four years? 

This is neither here nor there. I always say we’re not discussed this issue in a vacuum. It is the reflection of our third world politics. Our politics is not matured to the extent that people are ideologically committed. People just seek for political offices and it doesn’t matter what political platform they choose.

Where there is ideological commitment, you will find out that not only an individual but generations of his family belong to only that political party. There are established families in America who would never cross from Democratic to Republican, party. The same in United Kingdom there are families who can never leave the Conservatives party for Labour party. Ours are just building, in fact, the political parties that I knew would have brought Nigeria that tradition was NRC and SDP but they were short live.

We would continue to do this until things stabilize in future because most of the political parties are still evolving. Do not mind that I am PDP, but I can tell you now that PDP as a party has developed a’ hard core membership’. APC is evolving because if you remove Buhari APC is gone. May be you can give them 20 to 30 years they may develop into becoming’ hard core party’. My children have been in PDP since 1998. I don’t see them leaving PDP not because of me but the party has now developed to a ‘hard core party’ and it would continue to be like that. For now we don’t know for APC yet because if you remove Buhari, somebody I respect very well. A lawyer said recently if Buhari loses in 2019, this country would crumble. That just gave you the idea how APC is not a serious party. If you are building your success on just one man then there is a problem with the party, APC. So it is an evolving process with time we are going to mature our political system.

Your state has been involved in crisis most especially your constituency. We learned that people are now returning to their homes since that crisis started. What efforts have you made in this regard? 

Well, if you have been following events in this country I raised a motion on the killings going on there to draw the attention of entire world to what was going on there. I thank God Almighty that, that motion stood out among virtually every other item in the paper for two hours. It was thoroughly debated. All television houses, including the BBC and Al-Jazeera aired the matter.

And for the first time the country’s attention was drawn to killings was going on; there was massive cover up but my motion exposed what was going on. And I thank God the government response favorably and sent in military personnel and to God be the glory people are returning to their shanties. So I feel high sense of fulfillment.

‘Fake news’ is said to be fueling such crisis in the country and creating anxiety all over the place. What do you say to that?

If we were to prosecute them, Lai Muhammad should go to prison immediately but we take what they say as political and vote catching statements and we take it like that. I said it has to do with the fact that because there is a lot of social media, there is a lot of news flying around and we know the BBC had to make some comments that news fly is not limited only to Nigeria, it is universal. What remain for us to do is to be able to acquire the ability to distinguish what is fake news and what is good.

Do you support legislation against it as it is been canvassed in some quarters?

These are characteristics by photo shopping, news that are disjointed and if you are smart enough you will able to know there is no link between the paragraphs of the news. So it has become so all over the world, it is not just Nigeria. It is not something you can legislate out of existence other than to deal with it as the laws existing has provided.

If you do something that is inimical to someone’s well-being the person has the right to seek redressed in the court of law. I think when some people are prosecuted for peddling fake news it will now dawn on people that this thing cannot go unpunished.

Again, before the government criminalizes ordinary political comments and reduce them to fake news, we have to be very, very careful that we should not play into the hands of repressive regimes.

That way they can start labeling every news as fake and then criminalized it and put you in prison. We should be able to distinguish between mere political comments, comments that are aimed at getting vote than if some body wants to pitch you at election. We should not reduce it to criminal activity so that he can have the opportunity to jail them.  These are also area of worry that we should be concerned about.

But certainly every fake news that is aimed at creating disaffection in the society, that would lead to people killing people, raising the sentiment of one community against the other; that should be dealt with instantly. But if you say Dr. Adokwe is so, so and so simply because you want to beat him at the poll, I don’t take that as anything. I can also find something to say about you. It is a normal cause of event in looking for votes.

There is still uncertainty if the existing laws can take care of fake news. What do you say to that?

Yes, there are existing laws that deal with the aspect of label and defamation of character, and those laws are available to anybody who feels aggrieved to use to seek redress. At the same time we are aware that there is a specific class of fake news that are creating disaffection among communities. These are things that are not true or if you say so, so and so community is about to attack so, and so community you’re all monger and that is quite dangerous, it can create anarchy in the society: That can be dealt specifically and immediately without any reservations.

But what I am also saying is that you must not confuse that with someone looking for votes and attacking your person as a politician, of course if volunteer into boxing arena you cannot complain of assault. If you put yourself into an election, people would say things. If they say you don’t have a correct certificate you have to bring it out. Your just say this is my certificate! There is much people cannot throw at you if you come to seek for election including your human person, your physique, your fitness. These attributes would become  subject of discussion once you declare to be president; there is nothing hidden about your health and you trying to hide it, people would bring it out.

There are president that served in the United States of America while seating in the wheel chair at a time. If the public wanted, they would have voted him out.