Temidayo Akinsuyi; Titilope Joseph;Joy Anigbogu;Samuel Ogidan;
Lagos, Abuja / Lagos – Promoters of hate speeches are to die by hanging or face life jail, depending on the degree of the offence.
This was the position of a Bill titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches and for other Related Matters,’ which passed first reading on Tuesday at the Senate.
The bill was sponsored by Aliu Sabi Abdullahi.
But analysts have decried the Bill and asked the Senate to immediately jettison it in the interest of the nation.
Recall that sometime, last year, a similar bill seeking to establish the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches, sponsored by the same senator, passed first reading on the floor of the Senate.
Also recall that the eight Senate had in 2017 tried to pass the bill without success. The bill was also introduced then by Aliu Sabi Abdullahi, who was the then spokesman of the Senate.
Abdullahi, who represents Niger North, while sponsoring the bill last year, had proposed death penalty, life jail, five years imprisonment depending on the degree of the hate speech and option of a fine of N10 million.
The bill provides that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that resulted in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction.
However, the bill, which was reintroduced on Tuesday by Abdullahi was not different from what was sponsored last year.
The reintroduced bill also contained same punishment for culprits of hate speeches. It provides life jail sentence, five years imprisonment, depending on the degree of the hate speech, and option of a fine of N10 million.
The bill also seeks the establishment of a commission that will enforce the law on hate speeches across Nigeria.
The objective of the bill is to ensure the elimination of all forms of hate speeches; promote the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic groups; as well as advise the Federal Government on the matter.
The bill defined hate speech as comments that insult people for their religion, ethnic, linguistic affiliation, racial contempt, among others.
According to the Bill, “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of, any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or persons from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.
“Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.
“For offences like harassment on the basis of ethnicity, racial contempt, the bill proposes not less than five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.
“A person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of: (a) violating that other person’s dignity; or (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.
“Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of this section if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.
“A person who subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to an imprisonment for a term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than ten million naira, or to both.”
Other functions of the commission include discouraging persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encouraging full participation by all ethnic communities in the social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities.
Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Tuesday directed the Committee on Appropriations to do everything possible to ensure it laid the 2020 budget estimates on November 26 so it would be passed on November 28.
Lawan gave this directive on Tuesday during the plenary session.
He also charged the Appropriations Committee to commence work on the budget since all the standing committees have concluded their work with ministries, departments, and agencies.
Lawan said: “On the budget 2020 we are working on, the ball is now in the court of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the last committee standing.
“All the committees have done their work so well within the defined parameters and we, therefore, expect the Appropriations Committee to produce the report and lay it here by the 26th of November, next two weeks.
“I believe that the same thing will be done in our sister chamber, the House of Representatives, so that we are able to pass the Appropriation Bill 2020 on November 28, by the Grace of God.”
Bill Ill-Intentioned, Formulated To Suppress Criticisms— Ozekhome
In reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, Dr. Mike Ozekhome, has described the bill as ill-intentioned and ill-conceived.
The senior lawyer added that the bill 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.
He said: “I pray this provision is not true. I pray it is a mere moonlight tale, the type described as ‘a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
“This bill should be deleted immediately; the bill 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.
“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.
“When has merely making a speech under section 39 of the 1999 constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, become not just treasonable felony (life imprisonment), but also 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. 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 de-robe and destroy.”
Dr. Ozekhome further noted that the bill was “an ill-intentioned, ill-conceived, ill-digested and ill-part read dictatorial and absolutist piece of nonsensical legislation waiting to consume all of us”.
He added: “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 policies of government.
“This government has been tested and known to be very allergic to constructive criticisms. Its skin is very negatively thin against criticisms as regards citizens’ genuine concerns.
“It is a government that listens to itself, sets its own examination questions, marks them by itself, and award marks to itself.”
Hate Bill Necessary To Tame Social Media – Sagay
Despite Ozekhome’s argument against the Hate Speech Bill, Prof. Itse Sagay, chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), noted on Tuesday that the bill was necessary to restrain the excesses of social media users.
Prof. Sagay said there was need to control the use of social media because of the way people abused it. He, however, added that there was no way the penalty for hate speech could be death sentence.
He said: “There is no way anyone will say death is the penalty for hate speech; not even life imprisonment can be speculated for the offender of the law – maybe a few years of imprisonment will do; so the death penalty could only be a rumour.
“However, there is need for control of social media because it is full of hate, bitterness, and lies. People use it to tell a lot of lies and spread untrue stories. I definitely agree that there is need to check the use of social media in the country.”
But Monday Ubani, former second vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said the bill should be suspended because it was not in the interest of the country and not the desire of the citizens.
“There are so many issues begging for attention in the country. The issue of the economy, unemployment, bad roads, education, and other important issues are begging to be solved and they are deliberating on hate speech.
“There is no hate speech anywhere because if there are no problems in the country, nobody will make any hate speech.
“I believe the law should be suspended because it is just a way of clamping on people’s freedom of speech,” he said.
Throw Away Anti-Social Media Bill, ADP Tells NASS
The Action Democratic Party (ADP) has called on the two chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) to reject and throw out any bill aimed at gagging the freedom of speech of Nigerian citizens.
ADP said it was not in the best interest of Nigerians that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, was calling for the regulation of the social media, maintaining that the party would not fold its arms and watch Nigeria descend into a state of totalitarianism or despotism.
In a statement made available to journalists on Tuesday by Prince Adelaja Adeoye, National Publicity Secretary of the party, the ADP faulted the promoters of the bill, stressing that it was an anti-people bill, which would not end well.
It pointed out that if government officials were clean and had nothing to hide, they should not be afraid of the social media.