As the debate over hate speech bill before the National Assembly rages, legal practitioners and human right activists argue that the proposed bill is in contravention of the fundamental freedom of speech.
Those who spoke to Law and Human Right include, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, SAN, Prof. Sam Erugo Monday Ubani, Malachy Ugwummadu, Isa Sanusi, Clement Onwuenwunor and Tope Alabi.
“It is true that there is a rising trend in hate speech in the country but I think the best mechanism against hate speech is good governance and not judging how people think. If the action of the government is seen as fair, equitable, just and all inclusive, I don’t think hate speech will be common place in Nigeria. Our public functionaries especially the politicians are criticize by their actions and body language creating hatred in the country. It would be unfair to turn around and hand them a weapon to witch-hunt those who criticize them. Nigerians should stop the National Assembly from this attempt to play with our fundamental freedom.”
“Since hate speech has been defined as a speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of protected attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, I do not think we require a specific Act of the National Assembly to prohibit and penalise hate speech. Apart from issue of constitutionality of such law, there are existing law in the country that can be amended to incorporate hate speech as an offence with a fine or imprisonment or both as penalty and definitely not death penalty. This is what operates in most democratic countries that balance freedom of speech with hate speech.”
The bill is a bad draconian legislation aimed at stifling free speech and undermining Nigeria’s democracy. There are defamation laws capable of dealing with libelous publications including online false publications. Proposing death sentence for hate speech, a vague notion, is not only too nasty but too harsh. Death penalty is not deterrence to crime, and as our criminal justice system always target poor and vulnerable groups. The law will only undermine free expression as the targets will remain journalists and political activists. The recent hate attack on a judge of the Federal High Court by Minister Timipre Silva is a hate speech common among the political society, which always go unpunished.
The key to fighting hate speech is to punish high level political actors who use tribal and religious sentiments to incite the common people to violence.
Passage of such Bill portends still greater danger to our ‘democracy’, i.e. what we call democracy. The democracy, as it were, is already under threat, going by current events, essentially the impunity and lawlessness everywhere and most importantly the apparent collapse of the judiciary. Once the freedom of expression is taken away by the Bill, we would have lost everything-I believe that’s the only right still available to everyone. But, that’s not suggesting that the right is absolute. No right is absolute! Probably, there’s nothing wrong in regulating and moderating the reckless statements of some Nigerians-the worry is the abuse of regulation by government agencies; and the use against political opponents or to witch-hunt the lowly or underrepresented. I believe that there are enough laws, civil and criminal, to address the issue of hate speech. And at any rate, the major culprits are politically exposed persons and those working for them.
“Anytime any government is unable to fulfill the promises they make to the people, they resort to drastic measures to curb free speech and criticisms and that maybe what is playing out presently within our system. There is no intention to curtail any hate speech in the real sense of that word but a demonic design to go after the critics of the government especially where they may have made up their mind not to address myriads of problems plaguing the nation. The draconian hate speech bill will do this country no good in the long run. Those who are targeting others today will become object of targets in the near future. My advice to the government is to tackle the socio economic problems besetting the nation and they will in turn secure the support of all and sundry. The Hate Speech Bill does not enjoy the approval of the majority of Nigerians and will take us backwards in terms of development of our democracy if it is passed and assented to by the president. It will become the worst legacy ever left by this government the moment it becomes a law.”
The indicators of an emerging fascism in Nigeria are becoming clearer. The character and dimension of State intolerance to citizens’ participation in governance are now established and frightening. The relentless efforts to muzzle the press and free speech are indicative of a hidden agenda by the ruling class and over which the government is no longer disposed to attract debates and interrogations within the public space. Hate speeches, no doubt, are condemnable and capable of disrupting social orders and equilibrium. Yet, the government is certainly over reaching itself when it consistently devised legislative mechanisms to circumvent the freedom of Nigerians to expression. Recall that attempts have been made in the past to stifle, muffle social media practitioners and platforms in the public space then, this proposed hate speech bill. The concerns now are: how will this power not be susceptible to abuse? Who superintend the affairs of the proposed commission? Whose discretionary judgment determines a hate speech? Of what relevance and conflict will other legislations on the issue including the Cyber Crimes Act become with the promulgation of the proposed bill? What is the cost implications of establishing other bureaucracies including a Commission with a fresh work force and conflicting mandates. How farther are we moving away from the established sound principle of law( in the case of Arthur Nwankwo v State since 1985)that a state functionary is not at liberty to use the instrumentalities of the State to hound perceived opponents. He can merely institute a civil action in defamation.
“We always stand against any move and any law that can deny people their right to freedom of expression and freedom to life.
We are still monitoring progress of the bill and we restate that no any law can stand if it is against freedom, against justice and against international law. What Nigerians need is freedom and justice; end discrimination, torture and extortion. It is so unfortunate that politicians are obsessed with using execution as solution to all kinds of problem. These days they throw death penalty as every problem; without minding the fact the best solution to our problems is justice and fairness.We are firmly against any move or law that can be used to violate human rights.”
“Hate speech is not only unconstitutional is not only unconditional,undemocratic, anti people but also anti civilisation. The constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Any hate speech bill that purports to run afoul of the guaranteed freedom of speech would be declared unconditional. Criticism is parts of means of checkmating government excesses. In fact, the best way of putting government on the right track is through criticism. Hate and bad style of leadership, of course, would give birth to hate speech. There is no doubt about that. As government functionaries, if you do well, people would praise you. Those who are promoting the bill must have failed their people. Note that the proponents would soon become victims. What goes round comes around.”
The proposed Bill against Hate Speech by the National Assembly constitutes a great affront on Section 39(1) of the Constitution of the FRN, 1999 as Amended and otherInternational Conventions ratified by the Nigerian State which guarantee free speech in Nigeria. The woes of the Ill-fated Bill have been worse by its prescription of capital punishment for violation. I have no doubt that just like the former law of Sedition that was struck down and long buried in our country, this draconic Bill will also not see the light of the day even when passed by the National Assembly. The simple reason for this is that the Hate Speech Bill cannot and will not meet the conditions stipulated in section 39(3) of the Constitution of the FRN, 1999 as Amended to guarantee its validity.
While the National Assembly should be encouraged to pass such draconic laws against prevailing violence and other crimes against humanity in Nigeria, they should stop trivialising national legislation by wasting public funds and resources on unpopular and condemnable bill such as Hate Speech Bill.