Lawyers, dons, NBA, activists, Atiku slam hate speech bill


… bill is hate speech itself, draconian


Eminent lawyers, well-meaning Nigerians, politicians and civil rights organizations have reacted to the death penalty for hate speech bill which scaled the first reading in the Nigerian Senate on Tuesday, describing it as draconian.

Among them are Prof. Femi Otubanjo, a public affairs analyst, Mr Norrison Quakers (SAN), ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the Convener, Free Nigeria Movement, Mr Raphael Adebayo, Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), Senate Minority Leader, Mr  Enyinnaya Abaribe.

The bill, sponsored by a former Senate spokesperson, who is now the Deputy Senate Whip, Mr Sabi Abdullahi, had scaled the first reading on Tuesday.

It is entitled, “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech (Establishment, etc) Bill 2019, a federal agency to check hate speech in the country.

The bill among others prescribes death by hanging as the maximum punishment for certain categories of offenders, 10 years jail term and a a N10 million fine.

Prof. Otubanjo, who described the bill as unnecessary, said there were enough laws in the statute books to try offenders.

According to him, crafting a new bill or resurrecting the 2018 bill rejected by senators is a panic measure and it is suspicious.

“There is a trust gap between the people and government… government does not need to come up with a bill to protect those in power.

“Yes, there is recklessness and abuse in the use of social media, but there are enough extant laws to try offenders,’’ Otubanjo said on Wednesday dawn Channels TV Sunrise Daily programme.

He noted that what traditional media could not do in fighting or exposing corruption involving those in public offices, social media was helping to expose.

“It has also helped government to adjust or correct itself although they may not say that publicly,’’

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the bill was anti-democracy as it could not be justified.

The National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kunle Edun, cautioned the Senate to “tread carefully” on the bill.

He reminded the Senate that Section 39(3) of the Constitution had made it mandatory that no law could abrogate the rights of Nigerians’ right to freedom of speech.

“We therefore, strongly advise that the Senate should tread carefully on this bill.

“Section 39(3) of the Constitution makes it mandatory that no law can abrogate the rights of Nigerians to exercise their right to freedom of speech except if such law can be reasonably justified in a democratic society. “Can a Hate Bill be reasonably justified in a democratic society?”

He said with the nation already grappling with wanton arrest and prosecution of citizens from treasonable felony after expressing their opinions, there might not be any guarantee that the bill when signed into law would not be used to harass those exercising their right to free speech.

“While the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, there are enough laws in Nigeria to tackle the excesses.’’

Criticizing the bill, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), called on Nigerians to resist it which he described as an extension of rights abuses.

To Mr Norrison Quakers (SAN), the bill will be prone to abuse.

“Whose parameters do you use to determine or judge hate speech? How many people can you possibly pick for that? It will be abused, there is no doubt.

“It will be targeted at political opponents and if we are not careful, there may be ethnic angles to it, there will be religious angle to it, depending on who is at the helm of affairs.

“So, it is not something that should be encouraged,’’ he said.

However, a word of assurance came from the Senate Minority Leader, Mr Enyinnaya Abaribe: “The Senate will not pass any law that can affect the rights of Nigerians.’’

Lending his voice to the barrage of criticisms, former Vice-President  Atiku Abubakar, said the bill in itself was hate speech and an abuse of the legislative process.

“Atiku wishes to sound a note of caution to those now toying with the idea of an anti-hate Speech Bill, with punishment for supposed hate speech to be death by hanging.

“The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech,’’ he said on his twitter handle.

Also, the Convener, Free Nigeria Movement, Mr Raphael Adebayo, promised that the organisation would mobilise Nigerians to resist the proposed bill.

He described the commission as an attempt to muzzle Nigerians and deprive the citizens of their rights.

Adedayo said Nigerians should watch and allow the National Assembly to pass “this tyrannical legislation.”

Persecondnews recalls that Abdullahi had sponsored a similar bill in the 8th Senate, but it could not survive the second reading due to overwhelming opposition and criticisms from the civil society groups and the media.

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