It was like stirring the hornets’ nest, when Nigerians heard news reports that a bill in the Senate proposing death sentence for purveyors of hate speech had passed second reading and moved to the committee stage for further deliberation. The news triggered a barrage of reactions on various mainstream and social media platforms.
Sponsor of the bill, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, representing Niger-North constituency in Niger State, had explained at plenary that the country needed to establish an independent commission on hate speech, which would be saddled with the responsibility of eliminating hateful utterances and writings among Nigerians by enforcement of hate speech laws across the country. He said that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person should be sentenced to death by hanging upon conviction in a competent court.
However, since the news about the bill hit town, Nigerians have been engaged in vociferous arguments and counter-arguments for and against the said bill. Some believe that the bill would curb the excesses of mischief-makers, who make offensive and inciting statements capable of heating up the polity unnecessarily, while some others went overboard to tongue lash the Senate. Sunday Sun presents the diverse reactions from Nigerians.
John Bamidele Avoseh (JP) –Community Leader
I think it is a good move by the Senate. The idea is to stop people that could cause violence with instigating statements. We understand the rights to freedom of speech, but over time many have abused that privilege. Our lawmakers are only being proactive. And I don’t want to believe that the bill is being pushed to witch-hunt individuals. Rather they are pushing for the bill to keep the country peaceful. Because when you study the history of some countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, you’ll notice that it was hate speeches from different quarters that sparked the civil war that destabilized them.
Hateful statements create enmity between ethnic groups in the country. For example, one can criticize the president and say that he is incompetent. That is freedom of speech. But when you allude that the president, who is a Fulani man, is plotting with the Fulani to colonize the rest of the ethnic groups in Nigeria, so that other tribes should rise up against the Fulani, then you have deviated from freedom of speech to hate speech.
Barrister Barth Ozoana, lawyer:
It doesn’t make sense at all. How can they seek to kill somebody just because of hate speech? What happens to those in government that steal billions? In China and Japan if you’re found guilty of corruption, you’re hanged. Why don’t they borrow a leaf from that? That bill shows how selfish some of our senators are.
Although I don’t support hate speech in any form, but I don’t think it is an offence that should be made punishable by death sentence. I would rather suggest that they make corruption a capital offence because that has been a bane that has held us terribly back for so long.
Joe Nkamuke, Deputy-Director of the Justice and Peace Development Commission (JDPC):
There is obvious misuse of the liberty of expression on platforms like social media. And people that indulge in that continue to cite the freedom of speech as contained in the Constitution and international treaties. However, every freedom must have responsibility. Therefore, the legal framework designed to streamline what people should post on the social media is in order because so many things that get posted on social media platforms can be very destabilizing.
So I think that it is a good idea by the Senate. However, my biggest fear about that move is that we don’t know the intention of the people behind that bill. That is what we Nigerians fear. We fear that they are proposing this bill to be passed into law so that they can gag the people. The lawmakers should come out with the bill to the public domain and subject it to thorough public debate so that the people would thoroughly understand what constitutes hate speech, the dangers and the consequences on the country.
McDonald Azuju, Campaign Secretary, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Lagos State:
I don’t see how such a bill would work if it is passed into law. And I am sure the proposed punishment will not see the light of the day. Because how and who determines what is hate speech? Can hate speech against an individual and against government be punishable by hanging? Nigeria is made up of diverse groups with different kind of mindset and lifestyle.
Barrister Aham Njoku, lawyer:
The National Assembly cannot pass a law that would contradict Nigeria’s constitution. And having such law against hate speech is against the laws of international bodies like the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, Human Rights Charter and even the Nigerian constitution. The hate speech bill is totally unnecessary because our constitution already contains laws to checkmate abuse of the freedom of speech. It would amount to an abuse of human dignity if the law is passed. It is against the citizens of this country. It is advisable for the NASS to abandon the bill because it won’t work.
Queen Ameh, President, Human rights Defenders and Advocacy Centre (HRDAC):
I was appalled that such a bill could even be discussed in the Upper Chamber not to talk of it scaling through the second reading. Death sentence for hate speech is indeed a very draconic approach. How does one determine what is hate speech? Some of our senators are really making us a laughing stock to the rest of the world? It is a shame and a reflection of how low the country has descended. We have allowed political office holders to get away with anything for too long. The time has come for us to take charge of our destiny. What can the current government lay claim to since coming to power? Last time they wanted to emasculate NGOs now they are plotting to gag the common man. I think it is high time for us to stage a protest and occupy the National Assembly, to make these lawmakers to sit up and stop seeing we Nigerians as fools.