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Friday, November 22, 2019

The amorphous hate speech bill - ITREALMS

The issue of the hate speech bill which was sponsored by a former Senate Spokesperson, who now is the Deputy Senate Whip, Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger State) has been trailed with a lot of comments. The bill passed first reading at the floor of the red chamber on Tuesday, titled: "National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill 2019".

Before now, Abdullahi had sponsored a similar bill in the 8th Senate, but couldn't survive second reading as a result of criticisms from different corners.

Taking a look at the bill, offenders are either liable to 10 years jail term, payment of #10 million fine or death by hanging. This kind of bill must not see the light of the day, a bill fashioned to deprive Nigerians of their right, suppresses freedom of speech.

At a time like this, emphasis should be on the democratic growth of the nation, than a bill to pull it down. Can this bill be justified? What constitutes hate speech in a democratic setting?

Section 39 (3) of the Constitution had made it clear that no law could abrogate the rights of Nigerians to exercise their right to freedom of speech. I am waiting to see if the 9th Senate will pass a bill detrimental to the people. A friend once told me that the Senate does not fully understand its role as one of the three arms of government. We don't want an unresistant Senate, as it is a danger to the growth of the nation.

The bill according to the sponsor, is aimed at ensuring the elimination of all forms of hate speeches; promoting the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic group; as well as advising the Federal Government on the matter.

I can see dictatorship coming. A look at the multifaceted issues confronting the nation, is it the hate speech bill that should be on the front-burner? This is an ill-formed, shapeless and formless bill.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Nigeria is a signatory to this international instrument.

They said hate speech is a specie of terrorism. This bill has brought stimulated discourse in many quarters. For me, the bill is already taken care of under slander, libel, treasonable felony and other crimes. The proposed bill is in conflict with the Constitution, existing laws like Criminal Act and Penal Codes and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Act.

What the nation needs at this period are laws that will bring about peace, justice and good governance; laws that will holistically address the three monsters of insecurity, corruption and impunity currently holding the nation down. Nigerians for once should show their displeasure by resisting blatant oppression.

Anytime I remember this bill that is uncalled for, I remember Pakistan and Somalia. Nigeria as a nation should do things rightly, or is this a flawed democracy?

Each passing day, I see those called leaders full of disruptive tendencies at the detriment of the citizens. We can't achieve greatness, if the rights of the people are muzzled because when you subdue freedom of speech, then sycophants are seen all over the place which is not what the nation wants. A sycophant is myopic and insular in the appreciation of his actions. It is important to mention here that saying things the way they are is a sign for openness towards the growth of the nation and such helps in building a just society.

Hate speech has worn a fabric (Ankara), but is this the Nigeria of our dream?

For those putting on the apron of hate speech (crusaders), they should know how to differentiate between hate speech and a robust expression of one's views.

If I describe the Nigerian Police as inefficient, is that hate speech?

The time to act is now. May God save us from us!

*Chris Uruakpa writes from Lagos

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