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Bill on Hate Speeches: Matters arising

By Rose Moses

At the Senate the other week, another controversial subject was thrown into the political space as Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger) proposed a Bill seeking for establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches.

The Bill also prescribes death sentence for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person upon conviction.

Hate Speech

Similarly in August last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, then acting President, had at a function, described hate speech as a specie of terrorism. According to him, hate speech employs violence and intimidation to achieve certain political objectives and as such, said offenders would be punished under the Terror Act.

The Bill by Senator Abdulahi, who by the way, is spokesperson of the upper legislative chamber, among other things, reads that :“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 person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”

Expectedly, the bill has stimulated discourse in many quarters, with some Nigeria’s, ever suspicious of the Nigerian legislators, wondering whose interest Abdulahi was actually trying to protect with the Bill.

And for this category of Nigerians, they would like Sen. Abdulahi to look inward and at the policies of the APC led Federal Government, which most have alleged rode on the back of hate speech to power, and which they term as founder and inventor of hate speeches in present day Nigeria.

Hate speech, they further claim, was also boosted by President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement at an international forum where he said it will not be possible to treat those who gave him “97 per cent vote” same way as those that gave him “five per cent.”

And as if to confirm the above statement made at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC couple of months after he was sworn in as president, appointments into key positions and handling of other national issues in the Buhari government, have been glaringly lopsided.

That apart, the way and manner the Federal Government treated agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) when compared to what obtains in the ongoing deadly attacks by Fulani herdsmen in the country easily defines bias.

When it comes to the war against corruption, a senator and actually a member of the president’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Shehu Sani, satirically describes the president’s apparent predisposition, saying when members of the president’s circle are involved, the case is treated with some nice smelling perfume but when opposition members are involved, government deploys the use of insecticide.

Little wonder therefore that any criticism of this administration’ inadequacies, or actions and inactions are usually labeled as hate speech, which largely goes to explain why the proposed Bill has been hugely condemned and said to be in bad faith, even when that may not be so.

A legislative lobbyist/consultant, Akinloye Oyeniyi MLS, in a chat, however, said the proposed Bill is one of those that will not go far on the floor of the red chamber because the hate speech, which it seeks to address, is already taken care of under slander, libel, treasonable felony and other crimes.

In the same token, the commission it seeks to establish is duplication of the statutory functions of the National Human Rights Commission.

Obviously in law making process, there are preliminary considerations drafters and sponsors of Bills must adhere to, among which are conformity with the constitution in the area of supremacy, legislative competence, fundamental objectives and directive of principles of state policy, fundamental rights, and auster clauses, said Oyeniyi.

In other words, a proposed Bill must not be in conflict with any existing law, policy or case law, just as customs and religious factors, as well as implementation are put into consideration.

Thus, going by the the contents of the proposed Bill by Senator Abdulahi, it would seem it is already dead on arrival for the simple reason that it is in conflict with the Constitution, existing laws like Criminal Act and Penal Codes and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Act.

What Nigeria desperately needs right now are laws that will entrench peace, justice and good governance; laws that will holistically address the three monsters of insecurity, corruption and impunity, currently holding the nation down.

When that is done, things like hate speeches will certainly no longer be an issue, since hate speeches hardly thrive in peaceful and just environment, where everyone feels a sense of belonging.


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