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PROPOSED BILL: Nigerians Reject ‘Hate Speech Of Death’ – READ REACTIONS

Senate President, Lawal Constitutes 69 Committee Chairmen And Deputies - SEE FULL LIST
Senate President, Lawal Constitutes 69 Committee Chairmen And Deputies - SEE FULL LIST
Senate President,  Ahmed Lawal
Senate President, Ahmed Lawal

Nigerians have rejected in totality the new Hate Speech Bill before the Senate earlier abandoned by the 8th Senate under the leadership of former Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki because of its sensitivity.

The bill which attracts death penalty for anyone found guilty, “any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.”

The upper legislative chamber was last year forced to drop its first attempt to enact the law, following massive public outcry that ensued after The Guardian, in March 2018, exclusively reported that the lawmakers were desperate to pass the bill.

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Tagged “National Commission For the Prohibition of Hate Speeches”, the bill is sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Abdullahi Aliu Sabi (APC, Niger State).

Chieftains of two socio-cultural groups particularly kicked against the plan to establish an agency for hate speech.

They urged Nigerians to resist every attempt by the Senate to aid the enclosure of the open space and turn Nigeria to a full-blown dictatorship.

Specifically, Yinka Odumakin, spokesman of the Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, said the Senate was aiding and abetting full-grown dictatorship in the country by wanting to take away the right of speech.

“The Senate is now behaving truly like a rubber stamp assembly. Of all the problems confronting Nigeria today, all they can be doing is to be thinking of establishing an agency for hate speech and the death penalty for offenders.

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“What constitutes hate speech? It is a subjective interpretation according to the whims and caprices of those in power, so all they are trying to do with this bill is to cow people to submission and propose for execution those who disagree with the way the country is being run.

“The way our Senate is doing is making many of us who fought for democracy to ask: what did we fight against in the military rule that we are not witnessing in Nigeria today, especially with this kind of bill by the senate? Nigerians should resist this attempt to turn the country to a full-blown dictatorship.”

A Second Republic politician and chieftain of the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze, Chief Guy Ikokwu, told The Guardian in a telephone interview that the law of libel and defamation was enough to handle hate speeches.

“They should define what hate speech means and judge themselves if they have never hated anyone in their lives and if they were found guilty. They should be the first to judge themselves.

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“Our law of libel and defamation of character is very clear, so why would they want to fund an agency and even go ahead executing people.

“The law is enough under the dispensation of the rule of law and liberal development. Our laws guarantee freedom of expression, the Senate cannot make any law outside the constitution. We are not under a military regime, we are in a Federal Republic. If they want anarchy instead of liberal democracy, they should pass the bill and let everyone know where the country stands. This is getting too much, we cannot continue like this.”

A senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said: “A bill sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi, who incidentally was the spokesman for the Senate in the 8th National Assembly, is said to have passed the first reading. Part of the bizarre provisions in the said bill is the prescription of death penalty for makers of hate speech. What is hate speech by the way and who defines it? What is the true test of determining it? Is the test that of a government in power or that of the traumatised people or that of the National Assembly or the courts or the executive? Just who?

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“I have not yet had the opportunity to read the bill and so do not yet have the details of this unusual bill seeking the death penalty (by hanging) on alleged hate speech. I pray this provision is not true. I pray it is a mere moonlight tale.

“This bill should be deleted immediately. It should immediately be aborted and killed as a malformed embryo at its second reading gestation stage before it is allowed to be delivered as a societal monster. I quickly warn that this maverick and intolerant government cannot be trusted by any sane person to fairly operate such a draconian piece of legislation introduced under a law that carries the death penalty for alleged hate speech.”

Ozekhome further queried: “When has merely made a speech under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression become, not just treasonable felony (life imprisonment) but treason itself that is punishable with death?

“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Nigeria is a signatory to this international instrument.”

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According to the senior lawyer, “Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, also domesticated in Nigeria, reinforces this inalienable freedom that the NASS is attempting to derobe and destroy. The bill is an ill-intentioned, ill-conceived, ill-digested and dictatorial and absolutist piece of nonsensical legislation waiting to consume all of us.

“An obnoxious law such as this will further drive underground and into hiding, the opposition and genuine social critics who speak truth to power and criticise serial, opaque, anti-people, corrupt and high-handed polices of government. This government has been tested and known to be very allergic to constructive criticism.”

To him, “this is a government that listens to itself, sets its own examination questions, marks them by itself and awards marks to itself. Citizens’ opinion does not matter. That is why we have topmost government officials who shock the conscience of Nigerians and the world by saying, for example, that insecurity in Nigeria was exaggerated and that Nigerian roads were not as bad as we ‘falsely’ proclaimed. A government that incarcerates the Deji Adeyanjus, Omoyele Sowores and Chido Onumas of this world cannot be trusted to be a custodian and dispenser of justice under such an abhorrent law.”

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Human rights lawyer, Chief Malcom Omirhobo, said: “The Senate introduction of a bill seeking to establish a Federal Government agency to check hate speech in the country shows how idle our lawmakers are and how they are prepared to waste public funds at the slightest opportunity.

“For crying out loud, we have enough agencies and laws in Nigeria to take care of hate speech. Our problem is not the availability of laws or agencies but the implementation and enforcement of the laws by the existing agencies.

“For whatever it is worth, the Senate had better know that the Nigerian constitution has a binding force on them and that any law they pass that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression will be null and void to the extent of that inconsistency. We will not sit down mopping, we will challenge and resist it.”

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A Kano-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, however, said: “Much concern has been expressed about the prospect of curbing freedom of speech and expression by such a law, if enacted. The National Assembly has got that power because that fundamental right is not absolute, as it can be derogated from under Section 45 of the constitution. The only thing is that, if made by the National Assembly, it will be limited to Abuja in scope. Beyond the FCT, only state houses of Assembly are competent to enact such legislation. But, the key thing is that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute. It stops where the rights of others to their reputations start. “

 (c) November 13, 2019

Written by Adesoji OMOSEBI

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