By Ajibola Abayomi,
April 13, 2018.
OneVoice, a right group and other participants at its media parley tagged “freedom of expression and combat of hate speech in Nigeria” held in Lagos on Thursday have picked hole in the hate speech bill before the Senate.
They condemned the manner in which the Senate shielded the progress being made on the bill which attracted a death penalty and classified it as undue top most secret detrimental to the public.
The event was organized by OneVoice in conjunction with HURILAWS and National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Speakers at forum agreed that while it was necessary to curtail any act or speech aimed at causing public disorder or threat to life of the citizens, noted that existing laws and the constitution have made sufficient provision for rules to check hate speech.
Speaking, Pastor Adedeji Adeleye, the Chairman of OneVoice Media Committee and the Executive Director, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP) said Nigerians should not negotiate their right to freedom of speech or expression.
Hios words: “The Bill on Hate Speech before the National Assembly is an embarrassment. Leaders in government seem to revel in taking decisions in moments of emotional flourishes and consequently often fail to soberly reflect on possible unintended consequences of their actions.
“The first challenge the Hate Speech Bill will face is determining what constitutes hate speech. One definition of hate speech is that it is any speech that employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the bases of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other forms of group membership. In other words, it could be a speech which attacks a person or group or ethnic people on the basis of race, religion, gender, or disability.
“In other words, the debate is now over freedom of speech or expression, hate speech and hate speech law. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” will eventually be used to silence critics. The second is that there exists sufficient Nigerian extant laws that could take care of hate speech in the country with little amendment here and there. Therefore, a hate speech law is unnecessary.”
The activist added that :“Hate speech could pose to both the electoral process and public disclosure, the ‘Hate Speech Bill’ by the National Assembly which carries a death penalty clause is certainly not the right answer. NASS does not need to criminalise hate speech with death penalty.
Also Professor Lai Oso, the Dean, School of Communications, Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, cited lack of adequate synergy between government policies and academic research as the bane social and economic order in the nation.
According to him, government had not taken enough advantage of the knowledge base at the academic environment to improve its policy trust.
He submitted that the current hate speech bill lacks the needed input to stand the test of time nothing that the bill sought to protect the government against the governed.
Barrister Malachy Ugwummadu, the President Committee for Diffense of Human Right (CDHR) faulted the procedure adopted by the Senate on the bill describing the death sentence attached to it as obsolete.
According to him, it was like the senate was working towards an answer by deliberately keeping the bill from the public glare. He lamented the absence of the bill on the website of the senate.
The legal practitioner averred that: “Good governance may be impeded by the blight of corruption, which disrupts the free flow of information, undermines accountability for decisions and discourages greater participation in the decision-making process. Ensuring the right to press freedom around the world, therefore, should be regarded as a priority.
“The media could employ its strength of mass mobilisation, especially through the instrumentality of the digital or online platform, to impress on elected leaders at all levels of government that public office is public trust.”
“Even the extant bill under review in the traditional but disingenuous practices of “copy and paste” has fallen into the same error of repetition in that S. 27 (2) of the proposed bill is an insistence on appointment to its commission based on principles of Federal character.
“That error of judgment ipso factoreinforces the same socio-cultural that this legislation seeks to cure. Besides, the operative word in the foregoing 4(1) of the bill is “(intent)”.This is both subjective and speculative and leaves the law very unsettled in the sense that the proposed legislation makes no attempt to define what constitutes the intention envisaged by the law and who determines that intent.
“The inherent fear implicitly noticeable is that the government of the day may resort to the use of the Hate Speech Bill as a tool to hunt people who hold divergent views or opinions. That is surely a recipe for a breach of a major fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press” the lawyer averred.