Former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, explained to Sunday Sun in an interview that some Nigerians cross the national red lines when they exercise their freedom of expression outside the limits provided by the constitution.
“The constitution is very clear. Our constitution provides for freedom of expression without interference but according law. The red line is where you start punching but goes on to punch another person’s nose because your freedom ends where another person’s right begins. If you punch beyond where you should punch and bruise my nose, then you are crossing the red line. Freedom of expression is freedom according to the law; you do not destroy people through running them aground, implying criminality to them and then destroying their profession and so on. Crossing the red line is the reason people go to court for defamation and libel. People also cross the red line when they appeal to the sensibilities of other people and call them to revolt; people cross the red line where one religion starts attacking other religions; people cross the red line when one ethnic group tries to insinuate wrongness on another ethnic group. That is what is called free speech plus; where you have free speech plus, you have crossed the red line. The fact is that the constitution is a document of dos and don’ts. If you do the dos, you have not crossed the red line but if you do the don’ts, you have crossed the red line,” Momoh said.
Momoh, who is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), listed those who had been crossing Nigeria’s national red lines to include the coalition of Arewa youths that issued quit notice to Igbos living in the North to leave the region by October 1, this year.
He added: “The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is crossing the red line by saying (if it is true) that there is Biafra secret service. El-zakzaky is crossing the red line by having a group in different colours stopping people from moving freely in Kaduna and Zaria. Boko Haram is crossing the red line with the insurgency in the North-east.”
Momoh, however, noted that those who had crossed the red lines might have done so as a result of some perceived imperfections in the system that ought to be addressed.
“People may be crossing the red line in reaction to what they consider injustices in the country. But they may move beyond the line that was drawn by free speech, in which case there has to be communication. You have to discuss and that is what I always say. You discuss grievances and resolve them because problems arise from lack of communication, inadequate communication or miscommunication,” he said.
He added further: “In my little book, ‘To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’, I emphasised that Nigeria is over stressed and the people are also over stressed. When people talk of restructuring, some people say that they don’t know what restructuring means. In that little book, I said we can attend to these grievances of inequity and so on and so forth through rearranging what we have now. When you rearrange them by decongesting the political space, economic deregulation is automatic. We need to reduce the power at the centre and move them to the regions. We don’t need two assemblies; let’s disband the House of Representatives. Let the Senate be the body that will make laws at the centre. There are about 93 items now that the National Assembly makes laws on. We can reduce them to about 18 and then all others will go to the regions. These regions will know how to distribute them within the states constituting them. And then you will reduce cost of governance.”
Momoh warned that until Nigeria alters the present system of governance and addresses the perceived injustices in the system, the problem of people crossing the national red lines would persist.
“We spend more than 80 per cent of our earnings on recurrent expenditure, which if it is more than 25 per cent in any country, you go back to the drawing board. Nigeria is just more in democracy than in development. There is nowhere in the world where you put democracy before development; democracy is always a luxury of development. As long as you do not attend to these issues so that you cure the injustices people perceive now, there will always be this issue of crossing the national red lines because of people’s reaction to what they consider to be injustices in the system,” he noted.