By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
ON Tuesday, November 12, 2019, the Senate was presented with a bill for the establishment of a ‘National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches’.
The bill was sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, All Progressives Congress, APC, Niger North.
Like any other bill coming for the first time, it was introduced by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, APC, Kebbi North, and affirmed by the Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewor.
The bill is in four parts: Preliminary; Discrimination to which Act Applies; Establishment, powers, and functions of the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Establishment of the Commission; and Enforcement.
Under discrimination to which Act Applies, it is further broken into Ethnic discrimination; Hate speech; Harassment on the basis of ethnicity; Offence of ethnic or racial contempt; Discrimination by way of victimisation and Offences by body of persons.
With this development, the bill, abandoned last year after intense pressure and criticisms, is back in the Red Chamber.
When the same bill was sponsored last year by Abdullahi, it provided that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction.
It died on arrival during the tenure of Senator Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate.
There is no alteration to the new bill.
According to Abdullahi, the bill is to eliminate all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic groups.
The bill defines hate speech as comments that insult people for their religion, ethnic, linguistic affiliation and racial contempt among others.
It provides, “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 behavior 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.
“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.
“In this Section, ethnic hatred means hatred against a group of persons from any ethnic group indigenous today Nigeria”.
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.
On offence of ethnic or racial contempt, the bill stipulates, “Any person, who knowingly utters words to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than N10million or to both.”
To implement the provisions of the bill, it seeks the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’, which shall enforce hate speech laws across the country, ensure the elimination of the menace and advise the Federal Government.
It goes on, “The National Commission for Hate Speeches shall be headed by an executive chairperson who will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Council of State, subject to the confirmation of at least two-third majority of the National Assembly.
“Without prejudice to the generality of Subsection (1), the Commission shall promote the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against any person(s) or ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria.
“Discourage persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches
“Promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encourage full participation by all ethnic communities in social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities
“Plan, supervise, co-ordinate and promote educational and training programmes to create public awareness, support and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups
“Promote respect for religions, cultural, linguistic and other forms of diversity in a plural society
“Promote equal access and enjoyment by persons of all ethnic communities and racial groups to public or other services and facilities provided by the Government
“Promote arbitration, conciliation, mediation and similar forms of dispute resolution mechanisms in order to secure and enhance ethnic and racial harmony and peace
“Investigate complaints of ethnic or racial discrimination and make recommendation to the Attorney-General, the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant authority on the remedial measures to be taken where such complaints are valid
“Investigate on its own accord or on request from any institution, office, or person any issue affecting ethnic and racial relations
“Identify and analyze factors inhibiting the attainment of harmonious relations between ethnic communities, particularly barriers to the participation of any ethnic community in social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political endeavors, and recommend to government and any other relevant public or private body how these factors should be overcome
“Determine strategic priorities in all the socio-economic, political and development policies of government impacting on ethnic relations and advise on their implementation
“Recommend to government criteria for deciding whether any public office or officer has committed acts of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or race
“Monitor and review all legislations and all administrative acts relating to or having implication for ethnic or race relations and, from time to time, prepare and submit to government proposals for revision of such legislation and administrative acts, and initiate, lobby for and advocate for policy, legal or administrative reforms on issues affecting ethnic relations”.
On the process of lodging a complaint, the bill says, “A person shall complain to the Commission by lodging a written complaint to the Commission by hand, facsimile or other electronic transmission or post, setting out the alleged contravention.
“The Commission shall notify the respondent in writing of the complaint as soon as practicable after receiving it.
“ Commission may decline to entertain some complaints where the Commission considers that a complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance; involves subject matter that would be more appropriately dealt with by a court; involves subject matter that has been adequately dealt with by a court; or relates to an alleged contravention of the Act that took place more than twelve months before the complaint was lodged, the Commission may declining to entertain the complaint by notifying the complainant and the respondent in writing within forty five (45) days after the day the complaint was lodged”.
On investigations by the Commission, the bill stipulates, “If the Commission becomes aware of circumstance(s) where a contravention of the provision(s) of this Act may have occurred (other than an alleged contravention that is the subject of proceedings before the Commission), the Commission may initiate investigation.
“If, in the course of performing its functions and powers under Sections 19 and 20 of this Act, the Commission becomes aware of circumstances where a contravention of any provision of this Act may have occurred, the Commission shall extend its investigation to such matter”.
In another development, a bill that will regulate the use of social media in Nigeria, titled, ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019 (SB.132)’, was introduced at the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by the Chairman, Committee on Senate Services, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, APC, Niger East, if passed, will curb fake news on the internet.
Recall that a similar bill introduced at the eighth Senate led to outrage across the country and later withdrawn.
The old bill titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith’, was sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi Central, and sought to, among others, compel critics to accompany their petitions with sworn affidavit or face six months imprisonment upon conviction.
The old bill passed the second reading before President Muhammadu Buhari distanced himself from it, saying he was committed to free speech.
Senators were then forced to withdraw the bill.
But speaking on the new bill, Musa, the sponsor, said it is for “patriotic Nigerians” who want to see the country live in peace.
According to him, with the advent of the social media, there is reason for a country to see how the new media is tolerated.
“I as an individual may decide to remain in my room or office and then draft something I know very well is false because I want to hit at someone.
“Before you know it, it has been shared all over. I have a passion for IT and I know what it takes to disseminate information, it is like the speed of light.”
The senator, who noted that the bill was not designed to gag the social media or right to free press, said, “It is a legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on the social media. False information has been disseminated so many times to cause chaos in different parts of the world.”
Citing the spread of fake news on the internet during recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Musa said, “I feel we need it in this country; if countries like Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia and Egypt are putting controls to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it?
“There has never been a time when Nigeria has been very fragile in terms of its unity than this period.
“It is not to stop people from going into the internet to do whatever they feel legitimately is okay to do, but what we feel is wrong is for you to use the medium to document information that you know is false, just because you want to achieve your desirable interest”.
Speaking on the penalties, he said, “If anyone is caught in this kind of situation, you cough out N150, 000 or go to a maximum imprisonment of three years or both. And if it is a corporate organisation that refuses to block that false information, it will pay a fine of between N5 million and N10 million.
“For example, MTN, Glo, 9 , Aitel, etc., which platform we use in transmitting information, if nothing is done, we fine them and you will see that it will be a deterrence to others.”
The second coming of the establishment of a ‘National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill’ and the other one on the social media will definitely charge the hallowed chamber and go a long way to determine if the honeymoon enjoyed with regard to the bipartisan working relationship between the PDP and APC senators and, by extension, Senate President Ahmad Lawan is still intact.
When the bills go through second reading is where serious engagement would come to play and if they scale that stage, they would be referred to relevant Senate Committee, possibly the Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central led Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.
Public hearing where stakeholders, including civil society organisations, CSOs, the academia, professional organisations, media owners and journalists, among others, follows and the Committee, after collating views and opinions, reports back to Senate at plenary where clause by clause of the bills would be considered and, if successful, they would be read the third time and passed.
The next stage is concurrence by the House of Representatives before the two bills are sent to the President for assent.