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Senate Disassociates Itself From ‘Hate Speech’ Bill

Many social commentators have said the bill failed to explain at what point the constitutional human rights of an individual is bridged as clearly spelt out in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution

The 9th senate has disassociated itself from the controversial hate speech bill which has capital punishment, saying that the bill was a privately sponsored member bill and not by the upper chamber as being alleged. 

According to the Acting spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Godiya Akwashiki,

“the bill cannot be called a Senate bill but, simply a bill sponsored by an individual senator who has the right to sponsor private member Bill, which will have to go through all the necessary processes including second reading and public hearing for it to make headway”.

The National Commission for Prohibition of hate speech bill which recommended death penalty for anyone found guilty of transmitting false information against others which may lead to death of other(s), was re-introduced by the Senate Deputy Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi and passed through first reading in the red chamber two weeks ago.

Read More : Senate moves to criminalise hate speech

Sen. Sabi Abdullahi who sponsored the ‘Hate speech’ bill

The Senate said that the proposed bill to establish the commission that will enforce hate speech laws in the country was vague and controversial because a portion of the  bill which stated that “A person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of (a) violating that other person’s dignity or (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment,” as being hate speech.

However, many social commentators have said the bill failed to explain at what point the constitutional human right of an individual is bridged as clearly spelt out in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution. it says:

Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.

So far, the bill has received gridlock criticisms from Nigerians, claiming that it was targeted to stifle individual’s rights of expression especially to gag the opposition or dissenting voices. 

A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has also cautioned Nigerian senators against passing the bill, saying that the constitution which protects the individual’s rights to unhindered speech and expression would be violated as stipulated in the Nigerian constitution.

Former Vice – President , Atiku Abubakar

He said “it is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.”

The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka wrote to the Nigerian lawmakers over the consequence of passing the death penalty for hate speech, saying that he will never be in support of fake news and hate speech however , death penalty was not acceptable to him.

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka

“As you may have discerned so far, I again, and unapologetically, exploit this very development to reiterate my detestation and contempt for such pestilences that plague our humanity,” he added.However, Abdullahi who sponsored the bill claimed that though he has received countless threats ,he vowed not to “shy away from his responsibility.” 

He claimed “If you meet those who have lost their loved ones arising from religious or ethnicity, intolerance, and the like, I don’t think they will be smiling with you when you tell them hate speech is nonsense or does not exist. They have felt, seen and are living as victims of hate speech.”

Abdullahi, did not mention in details where the messages of threat came from or the evidence of the threats. 

The bill has passed the first reading in the Senate already.

Titled: “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2019”, the bill also proposes the setting up of a Commission on hate speech.