HATE SPEECH BILL: An Attempt To Rape Our Collective Human Right
I have always wonder what the perception of the developed nations – world power will be about my beloved country – Nigeria. Like many conscious Nigerians, I have always asked myself this rhetoric question, “Who have we offended in this country?”.
Definitely, the gods are not to blame for our past. We have cut ties with Sango, Amadioha, Oya and even Obatala since the colonial masters introduced Christianity. Then, the advent of Islam in the northern part of the country. With our paradigm shift from this traditional beliefs, I’m pretty sure none of this aboriginal gods has handed in the throng of problems plaguing our dear country.
First, it was the colonial masters. Many were dissatisfied with the way they ran the government. Later, came the military aristocracy, the military rule was cursed with different problems – the plots, the coup, the wars, and maladministration. Here we are still living in the past and continue to bask in the same old problems – corruption, nepotism, electoral malpractices, unemployment, gross ineptitude and far worse than before ‘economic downturn’.
Still lost in thoughts and besets by the random thoughts of the way out of all these problems, it is very clear that our legislators are less concern with plights of blue-collar workers, students and the penurious life her citizens are living. The ill-timed Hate Speech Bill is a clear evidence of this assertion. A country plucked from the adversities of the previous administration, it saddens one that the nation still take great delight in obscurity.
Last time, it was Anti-Social Media Bill, later attention shifted to the NGO regulation bill and now here we are again slugging it out with the Senate on the Hate Speech Bill. This controversial bill has already been spattered with disdain and hatred from the different angle. Myriads of people on various social media platform have also shown their unhidden discontent to the bill, as many people see it as flagrant violations of human rights.
There is an old Yoruba saying that ‘what the husband will not guzzle, the wife dare not cook it’.
Since the dawn of the 8th National assembly, the Senate has been characterized with anti-masses bills which is now a perennial celebration at the green chamber. In 2015, shortly after it, inauguration came the Social Media bill which unarguably was to truncate the activities of Journalists, social media activists, and Nigerians. So vague, that the terms of the bill remain ambiguous to many same with the Hate Speech Bill.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South and was entitled ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected Therewith”. According to a section of the bill, “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2, 000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment”.
It was greeted with much outcry from across the board and was frittered away after it was shamed at the public hearing by stakeholders.
The Hate Speech bill is sponsored by Senator Aliyu Abdullahi Sabi, the senator representing the good people of Niger North Senatorial District after he was reportedly sozzled by the angry mob in his senatorial district during one of his unwelcomed visitations. Little wonder he hurriedly decided to pitch his tent with the antagonists of Free Speech among the ruling elites. The bill which has passed second reading seeks the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission of Hate Speeches’ and capital punishment for offenders. Clearly, this is nothing but misplacement of priority.
As the discourse on the Hate Speech continues to spread around, the attention-grabbing part of it which one should note with wariness is the relationship of this bill with the freedom of the press. The attack on journalists, activists and labour leaders in recent time have led to growing concern whether we are in a “Kakistocracy” or Democracy.
Is this a journey to the past or a brief courtship between the past and the present? The days revered Kunle Ajibade, Chris Anyanwu, George Mbah, Babafemi Ojudu and Ben Charles-Obi were all detained for being outspoken and standing up against the military government. Bizarre, a government that rode on the horse of stack criticisms of the former administration to power is now hunting for guinea pigs to test its power.
In January, Elombah brothers were whisked away from their country home in Nnewi by armoured men for supposedly publishing an article. Just recently, Tony Ezimakor, a journalist based in Abuja was arrested because he also wrote an article pointing out the ill in the system. Last year, Moses Mutoni, BUDgit staff was put under SARS’ radar under the instruction of Senator Mohamed Sani, representing Niger South Senatorial District of Niger State. A handful of social media activists and journalists have also been locked up due to the reason is best known to the power that is.
The bill proposed that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. What is hate speech in the context of the bill still remain ambiguous, a topic for some other time? In a nation already divided against itself, all thanks to the politics of hatred staged by many of our political office holders during the election, guiding some loose mouth is needed. No doubt much attention should be devoted to the integration of the ethnicity groups.
However, the bill is not the only infringement on our human rights as clearly spelt out in the constitution of federal republic of Nigeria and declaration of human rights which was signed by Nigeria but also a bill set to crush our right to freedom of speech. The ill-timed bill which was tinted to appease the citizens spelt doom for the media and press.
Truth be told, we must also hold our leaders to account while they are in office, not just on Election Day. But it seems they have set on a reactionary journey to keep us out of the system and put voices which is our power under lock and key.
In saner clime, where attention is given to hate crime, strict laws and not capital punishments were passed to restrain her citizens from such. Of the multitudes of problems that have become endemic in our society – corruption is a thorn in the flesh of all and it tops the list in the yearnings of citizens yet nothing has been done and neither do they think looters of our commonwealth deserves capital punishment.
Sometimes last year South Africans lay siege to what many people believed will have severe implications for freedom of speech in the country, as guaranteed by their constitution. The Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill which was drafted by the country’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was greeted with so much criticism.
I believe much attention should be given to hate crime which is fast becoming a cause for concern. Howbeit, human rights shouldn’t be trampled upon as anyone who commits a libellous act should be treated according to the law of land. The bill is shown the light by the legislators will bring an abrupt end to the glorious days of wailing and ranting by all.
Shall we put out the fire while it is still small? Shall We? Or we allow it to raze the house to ashes. Before it gets out of hand there’s an urgent need for us to rebuke this bills and its numerous sponsors for the future of the country. Shall we allow our friends, relatives, and colleagues die by hanging? Just because they put government officials and political office holders on their toes while the real terrorists wander the street with their hunch back cows grazing across our large farms? Shall we?