By Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The sponsor of the Hate Speech Bill at the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, has bowed to public criticism of the bill and expressed his readiness to expunge the clause that provided for death by hanging as the ultimate penalty for violators of the bill.
The 26-page bill which scaled first reading at Senate plenary early this month stipulates various jail terms including death by hanging by violators of the provisions of the bill cited as Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Est,etc) Bill 2019.
Senator Abdullahi, who is the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, in a statement on Sunday, said be was ready to canvass for the amendment of the death penalty penalty proposed for anyone found culpable of hate speech that leads to the death of another, when the bill is subjected to legislative input by the upper legislative chamber.
The bill sponsor stated: “We have followed closely arguments for and against the hate speech bill, and seen the reason why some kicked against it.
“Given the high respect which we have for Nigerians, we will make amendment to the death penalty aspect that most Nigerians objected to, so that a bill that meets their expectations is passed into law.
“Clearly from the conversations, Nigerians agree that we have a problem in the society today as a result of hate speech which has fueled so many killings and violence, and is responsible for cases of depression and suicides.”
According to him, the bill will undergo some fine-tuning to ensure that the clauses contained in its provisions to be passed into law reflect the views of Nigerians.
He added that the Senate welcomes contributions and inputs by critics and supporters of the bill, as these would go a long way towards giving Nigerians the much awaited law to address the disturbing trend of hate speech.
Sheding more light on the provisions of the bill, Senator Abdullahi explained that the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to be established will guard against every act of discrimination against Nigerians by way of victimization.
The Commission, according to the former Senate spokesman, will have an executive chairperson, a secretary and twelve commissioners appointed through rigorous process involving the National Council of State, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the National Assembly.
In order to protect the independence of the commission, he stated that the bill provides that those qualified to be appointed as members of the commission must not be: members of the National Assembly or any government in authority at the Local, State or Federal Levels.
The federal legislator added that any person, who is a member of any political party or known to be affiliated with partisan politics, or has promoted sectional, ethnic, religious causes or openly advocated partisan ethnic positions or interest, stands disqualified from being appointed to serve on the commission.
“The overall concern is to curb violence and unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods of Nigerians due to hate-induced violence,” Abdullahi added.
Hate speech, according to him, has led to the death of many and is a major factor behind depression and suicide in Nigeria.
Citing a World Health Organization report, Abdullahi disclosed that Nigeria which is the seventh-largest country in the world “has Africa’s highest rate of depression and ranks fifth in the world frequency of suicide.”
The controversial bill which scaled first reading at the Senate on November 12 had provisions that were outrightly condemned by larger part of the society.
It includes section 2(4) which has to do with Hate speech and states : “(1) A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provided, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.(2) Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging”.