Chukwudi Nweje and Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Opposition against the controversial Hate Speech Bill has continued with the International Press Institute (IPI), Nigeria Guild of Editors and a cleric calling on the Federal Government to discontinue any plan or move to abridge freedom of expression of Nigerians.
Several Nigerians including Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Fr. Hassan Kukah, Chief Mike Ozekhome, Sani Uba and Femi Falana had earlier kicked against the bill.
The law to establish a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches championed by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, has passed second reading on the floor of the Senate. Details of the Bill are not different from the one abandoned by the eighth Senate. For instance, it reintroduced the death penalty proposed in the botched Bill. The Bill, promulgates that any person found guilty of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging. Depending on the degree of the offence, the Bill also provides for life jail, five-year imprisonment or an option of N10 million fine for persons convicted of hate speech.
In a statement, yesterday, the Nigerian chapter of the IPI called on media stakeholders to seize the opportunity of the impending public hearing on the social media bill to vigorously push for desired amendments or changes to any such Bill prior to its likely passage or rejection by the legislature.
Kabiru Yusuf, IPI president said in a statement: “We wish to make it known that IPI does not in any way support the peddling of hate speech, fake news and deliberate misinformation through any social or conventional media platform.
“We are aware that all of the aforementioned are usually the preserve of quacks and non-professionals who have no regard for the implications that such acts would have for our polity and for national peace and security.
“But we are decidedly opposed to laws with prescription of capital punishment and any other stiff and dehumanising penalties for such abuse of the media space.”
He called on the National Assembly to explore the alternatives “of either re-examining the provisions of the Cyber Crime Act (2015) to accommodate current realities or advocating the applications, when necessary, of its provisions to check any negative use of social media.”
Editors at the All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC)in Sokoto condemned what it called “attempts to punish conventional media for the wrongs of non-professionals on the social media platforms” and described the proposed fake news and hate speech bills “draconian legislations that have no place in Nigeria’s democracy.”
The editors called for a “collective fight against all media abuses by non-professionals.”
In a communique signed by Mustapha Isah and Mary Atolagbe, president and general secretary respectively, NGE also called for the release of all detained journalists across the country, stating that “democracy thrives better in countries that cherish and promote media freedom.”
Reacting, the Bishop on the Niger Diocese, Anglican Communion, Anambra State, Rev. Owen Nwokolo, said the bill is a plot to cow Nigerians and deprived people of their rights to freedom of speech and expression.
He, however, called on Nigerians not to worry about the bill saying it will not succeed in the National Assembly.
“We condemn any such law which the National Assembly will want to enforce on the people of the country except the law is such that will help in building up the country, that is the only reason we will accept such law, but if it is championed to cow the people, then it is unfair, we will speak against it, condemn it in its entirety.”
“The National Assembly is not made up of people who are stooge to the present administration, and I am not sure they will allow the Social Media/Hate Speech Bill, to scale through, neither will they allow anybody seeking for third time as president of Nigeria.
“We should allow the members of the National Assembly to exercise their rights and duties as those elected to make laws for the nation. Social Media/Hate Speech has not passed the public reading or hearing, so when it comes to that stage I’m sure with the outcry by the people it will be thrown into bins, the National Assembly will withdraw the bill,” Bishop Nwokolo, who spoke after church service to mark the end of “Fresh Manna Conference” organised by the Diocese where the church under the Calvary Foundation donated the sum of N10 million for scholarship to indigents pupils and students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, said.
Notwithstanding the opposition, Abdullahi has maintained that opponents of the “hate speech bill” are ignorant of the dangers that loom if it is not passed into law.
In a statement, Abdullahi said its opponents were only pretending to protect freedom of speech.
He asked people to beware of “false information being spilled out by some persons and groups parading themselves as serving the interest of the nation.”