…We’re open to new ideas – Senate President
…Hate speech could spell doom for Nigeria – Malami
…Somebody wants to hang us for speaking our minds – Odinkalu
By Emmanuel Elebeke
It was a clash of opinion and views yesterday at the first Daar Communications Townhall meeting on Hate Speech and Media Regulations Bills held at NAF Conference Centre, Abuja, as sponsors of the bill and stakeholders from the media and civil rights organisations disagreed on the desirability of the proposed law.
Though sponsor of the bill, Senator Abdullahi Sabi tried to justify his reason for pushing for the bill, speakers at the Townhall were unanimous on why the bill should be stepped down, insisting that it was meant to be a tool to silence dissenting views against government.
In his remarks, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan who commended DAAR Communications for coming up with the Townhall meeting, expressed confidence that cross-fertilisation of ideas by stakeholders would go a long way to guide the government in finding a better way forward.
Senate President tasks participants on hate speech
He charged participants to find answers to the lingering questions about the desirability of the proposed hate speech and fake news law to assist the National Assembly and the government on the way forward.
According to him, the National Assembly is open to new ideas.
He also urged the stakeholders to be dispassionate in discussing such issues to be able to examine all matters critically and dispassionately.
Condemning the idea of shutting down dissenting views, Lawan said: “These issues have become topical because of our new realities. The realities have come because of the fresh gains in media and information technologies.
‘’These tools have redefined the way we gather and share information. Gathering and distributing information has become easier, faster and much more involving. Like most innovations, new challenges have also arisen.
“I need to reiterate that we are a democratic nation where dialogue, conversation, disagreement and agreement are central to how we resolve issues. When exchanges are meaningful, we are sure to have a productive outcome. But when it is characterised with ceaseless conflict, I doubt if there can be progress.
‘’This is the direction that the National Assembly has always followed, by asking citizens to be involved in the democratic process. Of course, democracy is about inclusion and participation. We do not expect these features only in the provision of the dividends of democracy, but also in the processes that lead to it.
“The new freedom has led to an equally new celebration. The citizen is now supposedly freer, and probably more participatory in conversations. This is consistent with the philosophy of democracy.
‘’Coming with this freedom, however, is different patterns and channels of abuses. This comes through half-truths, lies, and hate speech. Concerned about this trend, some countries have imposed sanctions as deterrence or to prevent it from happening.
“Emotions and sentiments hardly help in a gathering like this. If our minds are open to all lines of thoughts, we will then develop a sense of perspective. Our conclusions will subsequently be helpful to the National Assembly and the government at large.
“This ninth National Assembly is open to ideas. Good policy directions and decisions come through a rigorous process of debate, and with participation from all shades of opinion. ’’
AG warns of dangers ahead
In his remarks, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mallam Ibrahim Malami, SAN, warned that if hate speech and fake news were not checked, they could have a negative consequence on the country.
He said: “The rate at which the proliferation of acrimony and vilifying statements dominate the social media space is alarming, the consequence of which will be dangerous. No society will fold its arms and allow such ominous crime to go unchecked.
“The media had tried vigorously in the entrenchment of democratic governance and had been instrumental in the process of ensuring good governance through the fight against corruption and upholding the rule of law in line with Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution.
“Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy that guarantees freedom of expression, thereby providing a conducive atmosphere and veritable platforms that enable Nigerians their inalienable fundamental rights to unhindered ventilation of opinions.
“No doubt, recent developments where Nigerians freely articulate varied viewpoints on numerous national issues are clear testimonies to the commitment of the Federal Government with the doctrine of freedom of expression.”
“The absence of gate-keeping processes of the conventional media, individuals with neither the skills of information verification nor the use of what the reality was had taken it upon themselves to be the purveyors of fake news, hatred, and animosity. Some turn the platforms into avenues for committing heinous internet fraud and cybercrime.’’
He said that though Nigeria was a signatory to so many international conventions, the application of hate speech would have negative consequences on Nigeria.
Why I sponsored bill — Sabi
Earlier in his remarks, Senator Abdullahi Sabi said he sponsored the Hate Speech bill to avert the needless killings occasioned by hate and careless speeches in the country.
Sabi, who dismissed the allegation that the move was politically motivated, insisted that the bill if passed into law, would be helpful in saving innocent lives and controlling unguarded utterances by the people.
On his part, former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, disagreed with Senator Sabi that the nation’s main problem was hate speech, noting that insecurity remained Nigeria’s major problem.
Insecurity, not hate speech Nigeria’s biggest problem — Odinkalu
“Insecurity does not give them sleepless night but what gives them the sleepless night is heckling Nigerians for daring to speak. We are invited to the expensive chambers of the National assembly to establish a Murder Commission because the murder had been committed.
“They do not want to kill politicians, if this bill is about slaughtering politicians, they would probably not allow it to fly,’’ he said.
Odinkalu noted that the bill was not about politicians but the common man on the street.
Freedom of Nigerians was not negotiable — AI chief
In her contribution, Ms Ossai Ojigho of Amnesty International said the freedom of Nigerians was not negotiable, stressing that the proposed bill would definitely encroach on people’s human rights and freedom.
Ojigho said the populace had learned to be suspicious of such bills because politicians use them as tools to oppress dissenting voices.
She also cited that the selective application of the Cybercrime and Terrorism Act which, according to him, creates room for concern among the people.
She argued further that since successive anti-kidnapping laws have failed to reduce kidnapping in the country, there was no need for duplication of law to regulate hate speech and fake news.
“We are not confident that this bill will be used fairly. It has become an attack on dissenting voices by those perceived as detractors of lawmakers and those in government. The draconian nature of this bill makes it a dangerous tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements. ‘What needs to be addressed is poverty, economic and social inequality,” she said.