Kehinde Adewole, Ado Ekiti
Renowned senior lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Wole Olanipekun has advised the National Assembly (NASS) not to pass a Hate Speech bill currently under consideration, declaring that such a bill is not only counterproductive but conflicts with fundamental human rights principles.
Olanipekun, who noted that it was unfortunate that such a bill had emanated from the NASS, said it was a pity federal lawmakers even dared to give it a thought. The lawyer also warned that the Hate Speech bill will create bad blood and disunity among Nigerians. He expressed the fear that those making such a bill now may fall victims of its penalties later.
Olanipekun spoke at the weekend in his country home in Ikere, at Ikere Local Government of Ekiti State, during his annual scholarship awards for over a hundred indigent but brilliant Nigerian students, through his Wole Olanipekun Foundation.
The former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) enjoined legislators to, rather than initiate problematic pieces of legislation like the Hate Speech bill, concentrate on sponsoring bills that would cushion the effects of “insecurity, poor education, hardship and bad roads” that plague the country.
“Let me first of all say this that I am happy to note that it is not an Executive bill. You know you can have an Executive bill, Members’ Bill or Private bill. This bill is being initiated from or by the NASS. I am happy because the bill didn’t originate from the Presidency. I think we are mixing a lot of things up. People commenting that Buhari wants to gag the press. I do not agree with them because the bill did not come from the Presidency. But it is unfortunate that it is coming from the NASS,” Olanipekun observed.
“We have a lot of problems in Nigeria that we need laws to cushion their effect; we need laws that will cushion the effect of hardship, poverty, education, insecurity, bad roads and all of that.
“As an elder statesman, let me advise the NASS to be more productive, let us stop chasing vanity and things that are counterproductive. To me as a lawyer, as an elder, this bill will be counter productive. The bill will bring disunity even among family members. We should not bring disunity. Wife and husband disagree, and if such happens, will you report your spouse for Hate Speech?
“Others are moving forward, we are stuck here. In other climes, people are thinking of how to transform their countries in 100 years time. I was in Britain a couple of weeks ago, and in a newspaper article it was reported that what [Former Labour Party Prime Minister Tony] Blair had put up some 20 years ago had began to materialise. And what was it? The Labour government under Blair came to the realisation that the enrollment of young people in school had gone below 20% and the government initiated an idea of getting young men in school by making their major priority education, and now 20 years after, the percentage has risen to 57. That is the kind of thing we should celebrate, not some laws that are counterproductive.
“My little knowledge of law will not open my eyes to the definition of Hate Speech. In the law of defamation, we have libel and slander and vulgar abuse. And they would tell you vulgar abuse is not actionable, we are all human beings, we all have emotions, everyman has his own lull moment,” Olanipekun explained.
“Sociology makes us to understand that everyone has a moment of momentary madness, an insane period of man. It might even be a transfered aggression.
“Let us caution ourselves in this country, and my fear is that those who make the law might become victims of such law. It is going to be a vicious cycle. The politicians, what do they do at the soap boxes, they engage in Hate Speech and abuse themselves irrespective of their political alliances. They should rather tell us what would benefit Nigerians in the soap box not spreading Hate Speech. They are the purveyors of Hate Speech.
“We have gotten to a stage where in Nigeria we have to speak to ourselves. Even God says to humanity: ‘come let us reason together’
“We must be cautious. Where do we start, where do we progress? What exactly is Hate Speech? It is something that will have a beginning but will not have an end. First, they were proposing capital punishment, goodness me! Such punishment is outdated, how many governors have been able to sign the documents of many people in death sentence? I was Attorney general in old Ondo State and even in Ekiti, none of the governors could sign death [sentences] we them even though we had many on such row. You see chief judges of various states going to release prisoners and you are talking of death sentence?
“Please, they should respect the sanctity of human life. Nigeria is not in the stone age. We have laws that have taken care of all offences in Nigeria. Rights are inalienable, you can’t take rights away. It is not a question of adjustment but a question of, we are all human beings we can err. It is only God that is perfect. Let them withdraw the bill.
“Whether they amend it or not, it will conflict with the principles of fundamental human rights.
“No review, no amendment, but they should withdraw it outrightly. We will forgive them if they show that they err. We will understand that they are also human beings who can also err. Many governors have condemned the bill, and that is civilization. Everybody knows what is good. Everybody also values the sanctity of life. It is not a question of if it is APC, PDP or APGA. it is a question of what is not good is not good. It is a pity that the NASS even gave it a thought in the first place,” he said.