Sabi Abdullahi, the senator who introduced a bill for the establishment of Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches, has explained why a penalty of the death sentence was included in the bill.
The proposed commission would enforce hate speech laws across the country, and ensure the “elimination” of hate speech, the bill says.
The bill which passed for second reading at the Senate prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.
Since the introduction of the bill, Nigerians have raised doubts on its intention. They argued that the bill was intended to hunt down critics of the government.
Prominent in the voices was that of a former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who accused the President Muhammadu Buhari of turning Nigeria to a North Korea.
An ardent critic of the APC administration, Mr. Fani-Kayode criticised the bill on his Twitter handle.
“Now they want to pass a law that prescribes the death penalty for calling a demon a demon,” he wrote.
“They call it “hate speech” because they “hate it” when we call a spade a spade, tell them what they are and expose their barbarity. Buhari wants Nig. to be like N. Korea. He hates free speech!”
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Abdullahi disagreed with the critics. Instead, he explained that the bill has slated some processes which must be exhausted before a person is subjected to the maximum punishment.
Contrary to the public view that the bill provides that ‘all persons who make hate speeches would die by hanging’, the Senate spokesperson said the penalty is only for those who are found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person after judicial processes in a Federal High Court.
“The issue here is that why not death penalty when you are responsible for deaths of other people,” he asked rhetorically. “After all, our present law says if you do anything that results in the death of another person and it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that you caused the death of that person, the penalty is death by hanging.”
“It is very clear. It has to be proven that there is hate speech, it has to be proven that the hate speech led to the death of that person. There is a condition that it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. The jurisdiction of the bill is the Federal High Court.”
Mr. Abdullahi said that those who are criticising the bill are doing so because they haven’t experienced loss of a relative to violence instigated by hate speech.
“People who may be having some opposing views about it definitely are not in the category of people who have lost dear ones and family or livelihood to similar circumstances. If they are, I think they will be saying how I wish this was in place before this thing happened to me.”
Mr. Abdullahi denounced the notion that such law after the bill has passed through legislative and executive processes, would be wielded by politicians to victimize their critics.
He added that the bill will serve as a preventive measure to deaths arising from violence started by hate speeches.
“We are also careful not to allow anybody take that and think he can continuously use it to oppress other people for whatever reason,” he said.
“That (victimization) is not possible, the bill does not leave it as an administrative act. The jurisdiction here is purely before the Federal High Court. The commission is independent and nobody can direct or influence it. The moment it is put in place, no authority can give it directives. It is independently empowered.
“They have processes through which they will do conciliations, and where there are conciliations between parties, they have to sign an agreement as an undertaking to abide by whatever terms and conditions are agreed upon with that conciliation. But where it becomes necessary that a person needs to be charged to court, it must be the Federal High Court for prosecution and at the court, you are entitled to your counsel.”
“The commission is expected to do conciliation first and that is why they are also expected to monitor under their functions and when they monitor and see different kinds of people who are already going in the way of hate speech, they will draw cautions.”
‘’By the time you get about five people that some people are involved in this kind of speech and they are being asked to refrain which they did, then you can see that we are already taking preventive measures.”
Already, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has cautioned the Senate against approving the bill.
In a statement on Friday, the NUJ National Secretary, Shuaibu Leman, said while the union shares the concerns being expressed by the sponsor of the bill, it is pertinent to caution against prescribing capital punishment for hate speech, principally because it could be used indiscriminately against perceived political opponents by unscrupulous members of the political elite.
“It is instructive to note that citizens are entitled to free speech even if they hold offensive and hurtful opinions. We also cannot forget that people have the right to be biased, even offensive in their speech even if journalism is different and we have to be aware of this.”
“It is therefore, our considered opinion that it is pertinent to avoid such pitfalls in our bid to come up with legislation to curtail the excesses of citizens,” Mr. Leman said.