EVEN after it was thrown out in 2018 during the Eighth Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger State), the new Deputy Chief Whip of the Red Chamber, has brought back his National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill. It has already undergone the first reading.
The Bill, in a nutshell, provides that anybody who produces and publishes or broadcasts any material through any medium of mass communication intended to stir ethnic hatred or violence, or harass another person or group on the basis of ethnicity will be liable on conviction to a jail term of not less than five years or N10 million fine or both.
It also seeks to impose the death penalty by hanging on any person convicted of a hate speech crime that leads to the death of another person. A special commission is to be set up to pursue the “elimination” of hate speech.
Ordinarily, a bill that seeks to enforce inter-ethnic and sectional harmony and severely punish those who are intent on fomenting ethnic hatred and violence should be seen as a welcome idea. This is more so in a country like Nigeria where hate speech has blossomed in the past seven years.
During this period, the North/South divide and religious extremism worsened, leading to predictions that Nigeria could break up in 2015. It did not happen because of the statesmanly conduct of former President Goodluck Jonathan in handing over power after he lost his re-election bid.
Boko Haram insurgency became a major national security issue. Ethnic tensions rose to a boiling point when the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB’s unsavoury propaganda against some ethnic groups in the country led to a quit notice to Igbo to vacate the North in August 2017. These and other concomitant quit notices were only withdrawn through the diplomacy of leaders.
The emergence of a free-for-all social media has greased the wheel of hate speech worldwide and every polity is struggling to have a grip on it. The question is: does Nigeria need this Bill and its draconian provisions to tackle the problem? Do we need a new military decree-like law with grave implications on our public resources?
Could there be a hidden or sinister agenda behind this law, coming at a time another insidious legislation seeking the Federal Government’s muzzling of the Social Media is being brought back to the National Assembly after being similarly thrown out earlier? These questions become more germane when we consider that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has repeatedly stressed its intention to come down hard on hate speech and the social media.
Hate Speech Bill is Time bomb on journalism profession in Nigeria — Ohaja(Opens in a new browser tab)
These are some of the concerns that prompted many democratic forces such as media houses, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE and social activists to kick against the two Bills.