Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State has added to his notoriety by asking the state legislature to pass a bill that seeks to punish so-called malicious rumor mongering and public misinformation.
Mr. Dickson has concluded plans to forward a bill to the state legislature stipulating stiff punishment for those who peddle rumors.
Mr. Dickson stated that the move became imperative because of what he alleged to be an ever-increasing rate of rumor mongering and the consequences of rumors on individuals and the state in general.
He accused propagandists in the state of promoting a recent spate of rumor mongering in the state. He insisted that the propagandists did not mean well for the state and warned that anyone found to have breached the proposed legislation would be punished in order to deter others.
He added, “Of course, we are all aware that the existing laws provide for offences such as criminal defamation of character and so on. But we are going to come up with a legislation to punish ‘dem say, dem say’ people.”
Governor Dickson blamed an alleged rise in rumor mongering on lack of education, underdevelopment and a decline in public ethics. He charged the rumor-mongering committee to spearhead the promotion of value re-orientation and good governance in the state.
The governor also mandated the committee to work closely with other relevant government agencies to embark on effective enlightenment campaigns on the policies and programs of his administration.
They need to depart from this pervading feeling of negativity in this state because the people are more interested in negative stories. That is not right and therefore must be checked.”
According to the governor, the committee also has the responsibility of serving as a clearing house for members of the public to clear their doubts on issues concerning the government and the state. He called on people to cooperate with the committee by calling designated hotlines that would be provided to enable the public to receive clarification about questionable issues in order to avoid unnecessary speculation.
Responding to the governor’s charge, the chairman of the committee, Boma Spero-Jack, wondered why people would still indulge in rumor mongering in the state in spite of the reported transparent manner of the Dickson administration. Mr. Spero-Jack is a retired director at the State Security Services (SSS).
The committee chairman contended that rumor mongers “have the opportunity to hear from the horse’s mouth but choose to make insinuations that contradict government’s good intentions and policies.”
He thanked the governor for the appointment and pledged that the committee would work as a team to achieve set goals for government.
In addition, the governor also appointed Ms. Vienna Imoukhuede, Zipamo Akanyo as well as a representative each of the clergy, traditional rulers, market women, SSS and the Nigeria Police to serve on the committee.
In an angry reaction to the creation of the committee and the proposed law, a Yenogoa-based critic described the proposed law as “laughable” adding that “it was a looming clampdown on free speech in Bayelsa State.” He accused the governor of chasing shadows instead of tackling the serious issues of development facing the people of Bayelsa.
“The people of this state deserve better than this laughable attempt to intimidate the press as well as citizens,” said the critic.