Opposition Mounts against Hate Speech Bill as Editors, IPI, Olanipekun Kick

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  • Sponsor lists dangers of non-passage

Chuks Okocha, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Martins Ifijeh in Lagos, Hammed Shittu in Ilorin and Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti 

The groundswell of opposition to the passage of the Hate Speech Bill currently before the National Assembly intensified at the weekend with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI) and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), condemning it.

They called on the National Assembly to pull back from further consideration of the bill, which they described as against national interest.

Also, a member of House of Representatives, representing Ilorin East/Ilorin South Federal Constituency of Kwara State, Hon. Abdulganiyu Cook Olododo, faulted the sponsor of the bill, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, saying Nigeria’s democracy is not yet ripe for it.

A groundswell of opposition championed by civil rights groups and prominent lawyers, has trailed the bill, which originally prescribed death penalty for offenders. However, buffeted by criticisms, Abdullahi bowed to pressure with a commitment that he would expunge the death penalty from the bill.  

With criticisms against the bill not abating,  Abdullahi yesterday railed against its critics and warned that not passing it would have dire consequences for Nigeria.

The editors, rising from the 15th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC 2019), which held in Sokoto from November 27 to December 1, rejected the bill, noting that draconian legislation has no place in Nigeria’s democracy.

Their position was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, chaired by a former Governor of Ogun State,         Chief Olusegun Osoba. The theme of the conference was “A Distressed Media: Impact on Government, Governance and the Society.”

 In the communiqué, which was signed by the NGE President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, the editors condemned all dictatorial tendencies against the media.

They stressed the need to collectively fight against all media abuses by non-professionals and frowned on attempts to punish conventional media for the wrongs of non-professionals on the social media platforms.

They demanded the release of all detained journalists nationwide, stating that democracy can only thrive in countries that cherish and promote media freedom.

They also raised the alarm that Nigeria’s dwindling economic fortune had contributed to the distress in the media industry, adding that there is need for government to overhaul its economic architecture in order to reflate the sagging economy and increase the revenue streams of the nation.       

In addition, they canvassed the need for diversification, improved funding, collaboration, specialised journalism education programmes, newsroom re-engineering among other innovations necessary for revenue generation and sustenance of media businesses.

The guild called for more capital injection into the media industry to overcome under capitalisation and dearth of funding that has hobbled operations of the media.

It, however, identified ownership interference as a key factor militating against free operation of the media and advised owners of both public and private media organisations to focus on facilitating the smooth operations of the media as truly business outfits.   

The guild commended the government of Sokoto State for the rapid growth and acceleration of infrastructure development across the state, as well as the widespread human capital development programmes in the areas of free education, sponsorship of indigent students regardless of their origin as well as initiatives for improved medicare for the people.

It expressed its appreciation to Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, for hosting and supporting the guild to have a successful conference.

During the conference, the guild ratified the election of Isah as its substantive president, following the appointment of his predecessor, Mrs Funke Egbemode, as a commissioner in Osun State.

On its part, the Nigerian chapter of the IPI, a conglomeration of senior journalists and media entrepreneurs in the world, condemned the Hate Speech Bill and other media-related bills currently being considered by the National Assembly.

In a statement yesterday by its Chairman, Kabiru Yusuf; Executive Board member, Mallam Wada Maida; and Secretary, Raheem Adedoyin, IPI noted that the bills have continued to attract comments and condemnations from various sections of the society.

According to IPI, some stakeholders, including individuals and groups, have declared that the Hate Speech Bill is inimical to press freedom and the exercise of right to free speech.

According to IPI, as the global network of editors, publishers, media executives, communication scholars, senior journalists/media executives and experts in the communication industry on press freedom, it clearly understands the implications of any law with contentious provisions for free speech, press freedom, media independence, safety of journalism practitioners and the unhindered operations of media businesses.

“We wish to make it known that IPI does not in any way support the peddling of hate speech, fake news and deliberate misinformation through any social or conventional media platform. We are aware that all of the aforementioned are usually the preserve of quacks and non-professionals who have no regard for the implications that such acts would have for our polity and for national peace and security,” IPI stated.

The group, however, expressed opposition to laws with prescription of capital punishment and any other stiff and dehumanising penalties for such abuse of the media space.

“As responsible leaders of journalism, we appeal to all real stakeholders to go beyond the open condemnations by seizing the opportunity that would be presented at the impending public hearing to vigorously push for desired amendments or changes to any such bill prior to its likely passage or rejection by the legislature,” the group said.

IPI urged members of the National Assembly to explore the alternatives of re-examining the provisions of the Cyber Crime Act (2015) to accommodate the current realities.

Also, Olododo told journalists in Ilorin that the bill, if passed, would do more harm than any good for the nation’s fledgling democracy as politicians would use it against their opponents.

“Nigeria is not yet ripe for the Hate Speech Bill to be passed, because our democracy is not matured at all for such bill. The major problems we may have with the bill with the present democracy is that politicians would use it to deal with their opposition members and that would be killing our democracy instead growing it,” he said.

“In United States of America where we copy democracy, the civilian rule is over 500 years and there is nothing like that since then up till now and we are just about 20 years in democracy.”

In his contribution to the debate over the desirability or otherwise of the bill, Olanipekun, while speaking to journalists in Ikere, Ekiti State, urged the National Assembly to withdraw the bill, saying it violates the principles of fundamental human rights and tantamount to pursuing a policy that is self-serving .

Olanipekun, who expressed disappointment that such bill could emanate from the National Assembly, warned  that the Hate Speech bill will create bad blood and disunity among Nigerians if passed and assented to by the president .

He urged the federal lawmakers to focus attention  on sponsoring bills that would cushion the effects of insecurity, poor education, hardship and bad roads that plague the nation, and shun retrogressive bills such as the hate speech own. 

“Let me advise the National Assembly to be more productive; let us stop chasing vanity, and things that are counter-productive. To me as a lawyer, as an elder, this bill will be counter-productive. The bill will bring disunity even among family members. We should not bring disunity. Wife and husband disagree, and if such happens, will you report your spouse for hate speech?

“My little knowledge of law will not open my eyes to the definition of hate speech. In the law of defamation, we have libel, and slander and vulgar abuse. And they would tell you vulgar abuse is not actionable; we are all human beings, we all have emotions, everyman has his own lull moment. 

“Let us caution ourselves in this country, and my fear is that those who make the law might become victims of such law. They should respect the sanctity of human life. Nigeria is not in a stone age. We have laws that have taken care of all offences in Nigeria. No review, no amendment will make it acceptable, but they should withdraw it outright. We will forgive them if they show that they erred,” he stated.

Sponsor Lists Dangers of Not Passing Hate Speech Bill

 But Abdullahi pushed back criticisms of the bill, saying its opponents are ignorant of the dangers that loom if the bill is not passed into law.

 In a statement yesterday, the senator said the opponents were only pretending to protect ‘freedom of speech’ by misinforming Nigerians on the intent of the legislation.

 He warned Nigerians to beware of “false information being spilled out by some persons and groups parading themselves as serving the interest of the country.”

 Citing a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on ‘Overcoming Dangerous Speech and Endemic Religious Divides in Central Nigeria’, Abdullahi said persons with strong bias capable of escalating ethnic and religious violence were infiltrating the media.

According to him, such persons and groups are opposed to the passage of a hate speech law because it would end their trade that depends on using ethnic and religious bias for the realisation of self-serving interests.

The senator, who cited another report by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), said there were strong indicators making it imperative for the introduction of legislation by the National Assembly to criminalise hate speech, which is responsible for violence and killing.

The CITAD report said the resurgence of the Biafra agitation in the South-east; the clash between the army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, popularly referred to as the Shiites Movement in the North-west  and the transformation of the localised farmers-herders conflict and cattle rustling to the large-scale rural banditry that had taken an ethno-religious character the North-west and North-central zones of the country, provided fertile ground for hate speech.

According to him, across the country, scores of people were killed as a result of these conflicts, further providing fuel for the wildfire of hate speech.