Hate Speech Bill: PDP Lawmakers Draw Battle Line With APC Counterparts

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….As Ozekhome Blows Hot

A bill seeking life imprisonment and death penalty for social media offences and purveyors of hate speech is set to cause altercation between lawmakers elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and those of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

President Muhammadu Buhari’s APC-led government is rallying the support of its members in the National Assembly for the passage of the proposed bill while the opposition has vowed to resist every attempt to draw the nation back to dark age days through anti-social media legislation.

Revealing plans by the senators to antagonise the bill, Senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the proposed law will infringe on the fundamental human right of Nigerians.

The opposing lawmakers, he said, will oppose the Bill if it threatens the fundamental rights of Nigerians guaranteed in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

The bill titled: ‘National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 (SB 154)’ sponsored by Sen. Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North) passed first reading on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill read in part “a  person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provided, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.

“Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging”. Also recall that last week, the Senate proposed a new Bill tagged: ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’.

The bill proposes a three-year jail term for anyone involved in the abuse of social media. There is however an option of fine of N150, 000 or both.

Speaking on behalf of opposition senators, Enyinnaya Abaribe, while reacting to comments made by  visiting members of the  Leadership and Accountability Initiative, said the right thing will be done to frustrate efforts to strangulate human rights when the bill comes up for debate.

Abaribe said there are already laws that deal with the issues the proposed law seeks to achieve. He, however, urged Nigerians to respect the rights of others while expressing their views.

“There is no speed with which this Bill is being passed. The first reading of a Bill is automatic. We can’t make a comment on what is still on the first stage. “What I can assure you is that this Senate can’t be a party to removing the rights of Nigerians under any circumstance. Section 39 of the Constitution talks about our freedom as citizens. The 9th Senate will not abridge your rights.

“I don’t think Nigerians who fought and paid the supreme to entrench this democracy will easily give it away and make us go back to the dark days. Rest assured that when we get to that point, we will stand for the people. Every Bill that passes here must pass through the rigors to ensure that it protects the rights of over 200 million Nigerians.

“We have a plethora of laws that can be used to drive the question of driving a free society. While social media can be good, it can also be bad. I am a victim of social media. “As much as there is freedom, yours stops where another person’s own starts. We urge Nigerians not to propagate falsehood or fake news. Our job is to guarantee the freedoms and rights of both sides,” said Abaribe.

Meanwhile, a human right lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, has described the Hate Speech bill as bizarre and infringement on human right. He queried the rationale for determining hate speech.

Reacting to the bill, he said: “What is hate speech, by the way and who defines it? What is the true test of determining it? Is the test that of a government in power? Or that of the traumatised people? Or that of the National Assembly? Or, that of the Courts? Or that of the Executive?” Ozekhome said the bill should be deleted immediately and should immediately be aborted before it is allowed to pass second reading.

He said: “Let me quickly warn that this maverick and intolerant government cannot be trusted by any sane person to fairly operate such a draconian piece of legislation introduced under a law that carries the death penalty, for alleged hate speech.

“When has merely making a speech under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression become, not just treasonable felony (life imprisonment), but treason itself, that is punishable with death? “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. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, also domesticated in Nigeria, reinforces this inalienable freedom that the National Assembly is attempting to derobe and destroy.”

“The bill is an ill-intentioned, ill-conceived, ill-digested and ill-part read dictatorial and absolutist piece of nonsensical legislation waiting to consume all of us.”

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'Dotun Akintomide's journalism works intersect business, environment, politics and developmental issues. Among a number of local and international publications, his work has appeared in the New York Times. He's a winner of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Award. Currently, the Online Editor at The New Diplomat, Akintomide has produced reports that uniquely spoke to Nigeria's experience on Climate Change issues. When Akintomide is not writing, volunteering or working on a media project, you can find him seeing beautiful sites like the sandy beaches that bedecked the Lagos coastline.

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