Nigerian Senators have admitted coming under fire over the planned passage of the Anti-Hate Speech Bill which passed first reading recently, as they try to douse tension and explain away the draconian law which prescribes death by hanging for anyone found guilty.
While Deputy Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Niger North Senatorial District who sponsored the Bill, in a statement to newsmen on Monday, debunked insinuations that the bill was targeted at giving President Muhammadu Buhari Administration a third term in office, Senator Uche Ekwunife said she received “several telephone calls and messages… on the issue of the Bill.”
The proposed Bill, he continued, rather seeks to protect the lives of Nigerians against undue manipulations by mischievous elements in society, describing insinuations to the contrary as a smear campaign by political merchants who do not wish Nigeria well.
Taking to her personal twitter handle, Senator Ekwunife, who represents Anambra Central, while explaining the process passing Bills into law, wrote: “it is during the second reading of a Bill that the sponsors explain the objectives of the Bill, after which it is subjected to a vibrant debate by other Senators.
“That the Bill has passed first reading in the Senate should not be a cause for concern to anyone.
“In our law-making process, the first reading is merely a proposal for the Bill to be read a second time and the process is automatic.
“I can assure you that when the Bill is up for the second reading, like all other Bills, the proposed Hate Speech Bill will be subjected to a very rigorous debate in the Senate Chambers.
“It is at this point that all your anxieties and wishes will be brought to bear.
“I want to assure you that I and my colleagues at the Senate would never allow any bill which does not fully reflect the true wishes and interests of Nigerians to pass second reading.”
Continuing, she noted that provisions of the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015 and other statutes already have provisions and penalties for hate speech and consequently, any other bill which seeks to regulate these same areas would be duplicitous and unnecessary.
In any case, she stressed, “Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, guarantees to all Nigerian citizens, a fundamental right to Freedom of Expression.
She promised to vehemently oppose the Hate Speech Bill to the extent that it seeks to “abridge the fundamental rights of Nigerians, guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution,” as enshrined in the Supremacy Clause of the 1999 Constitution, section 1 subsection (3).
Senator Abdullahi, in his statement, said the bill would ensure justice for Nigerians who were wrongfully accused and killed and that the lawmakers were already working in agreement to see that adjustments are made to the death penalty and other punitive terms contained in the bill.
Recalling the brutal murder of Tekena, Lloyd, Ugonna and Chidiaka in 2014, he said the University of Port-Harcourt students were victims of hate speech and that the bill if passed into law without a death penalty would ensure justice for the victims and their families by ensuring that the perpetrators face the weight of the law accordingly.
The Bill, Abdullahi stressed further, seeks to ensure justice for Nigerians who are victims of hate speech, contrary to widespread speculations, bemoaning the increasing rate of suicides and depression among Nigerian youths, attributing the development to societal values which breed intense hate.
He, however, stated that the death penalty for anyone found culpable of using hate speech that leads to the death of another, is an aspect that will be subject to an amendment when the bill is eventually considered and goes through a public hearing.
“The death penalty is not definite like some Nigerians are making it seem. In the National Assembly, bills go through legislative processes. The concerns on the death penalty are genuine and will be amended accordingly.
During these processes, amendments are made to fine-tune the bill in meeting with existing realities, after which “the hate speech Bill will go through these processes to ensure Nigerians get the best out of the proposed bill.
“If passed, the bill will ensure justice for Nigerians who are silent victims of hate speech. As we speak, statistics show that so many Nigerians are depressed and suicidal. This is as a result of the way our society is presently wired.
“We live in a hate-filled society in Nigeria and need an existing law to address this. In Kenya, they found the need to address the associated Ills of hate speech and they are now better for it with the introduction of laws in that direction,” he added.