Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Senate yesterday distanced itself from the Anti-Hate Speech Bill by declaring it as a private member bill and Senator Sabi Abdullahi’s idea.
But Abdullahi, the sponsor of the bill, which passed through the first reading at the Senate plenary last week, has insisted on pursuing the bill to a logical conclusion.
Abdullahi, who is the Senate Deputy Whip, told reporters yesterday that he is poised to ensuring that the bill passes through all the stages in the upper chamber before passage as well as concurrence by the House of Representatives.
Also speaking, Senate Spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, said the bill at the stage it is now, solely belongs to Abdullahi .
According to him, the merit or otherwise of its intendment, will be decided by the Senate during the second reading.
He also clarified that the bill has nothing to do with the executive or any hidden agenda.
“The anti-Hate Speech bill before the Senate is a private member bill from Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi . It has nothing to do with any hidden agenda from the executive and the Senate will apply all its legislative mechanism on it in deciding its usefulness for Nigerians or not”.
On his part, Abdullahi said the bill which he earlier sponsored during the 8th Senate but couldn’t push it further after first reading due to political exigencies of the time, is aimed at stopping the blood-letting promoted by hate speech in the land.
“The intendment of the bill is to provide a platform for dealing with those exploiting the two fault lines in the country , that is, religion and ethnicity , to cause crisis, which often leads to loss of innocent lives.
“Available records clearly show that largest percentage of ethno- religious crisis in the country within the last 15 to 20 years was caused by hate speech with attendant loss of hundreds of innocent lives. This to me as a federal lawmaker , should not be allowed to continue and the best way of doing this is to come up with appropriate law to arrest the ugly trend which the Anti- Hate Speech Bill is proposed to address “, he said.
The former Senate spokesman explained further that contrary to insinuations flying around that the bill is sponsored in collaboration with the executive for hidden agenda, the executive has no input into the bill at all.
According to him, “I have read write ups of those antagonising this bill and listened to those colouring it with hidden agenda from the executive in form of third term. All these to me are even hate speech or speeches on their own.
“My intention as a patriotic Nigerian is to tackle the spread of hatred in the land along the lines of religion and ethnicity, willfully being promoted by hate speeches. The bill is not peculiar to Nigeria as countries like Canada, Kenya and Japan already have laws against hate speech,” Abdullahi said.
He claimed those who had in the past lost loved ones who were victims of incendiary remarks were in love with the bill .
“Whatever anybody will say, if you have never been a victim, or your loved one has never been a victim, then you have the luxury of making statements anyhow as far as this subject matter is concerned. But I bet you, if you meet those who have lost their loved ones, arising from violence due to ethnicity, or religious intolerance, I don’t think they will be smiling with you when you tell them hate speech is nonsense, or when you tell them hate speech doesn’t exists.
“They definitely know what hate speech is because they felt hate speech, they have seen it and they are living as victims of hate speech. So, for me, I believe laws are made to check those of us who will chose to go to the extreme, outside the area that we are supposed to operate, so that it serves as deterrence. When laws are put in place, and no offences are committed, the law becomes redundant.
“But one thing I know in this country is this: those few instances where we had issues, the same Nigerians have gone out to make commentaries: what are our leaders doing? What is the national assembly doing and people are being killed for nothing and they are saying nothing! The only instrument we have is the instrument of legislation. I have taken the opportunity to look at this critical issue and people are demonising me.”
He added that though there are extant laws in the land against defamation of character, incitement, slander, but the proposed Anti- hate speech law will focus strictly on exploiters of religion and ethnicity for avoidable mayhem.