By ‘Segun ‘Bambo Ojomo
Rising from a one-day media parley organised by OneVoice Coalition, the body of civil society organizations and the media have outrightly condemned the recent intention of government to institute the Hate Speech bill in Nigeria.
The parley themed “Freedom of Expression and the combat of Hate Speech in Nigeria”, held at the Banquet Hall, Lagos Travel Inn, Ikeja featured papers delivered by members of the legal profession, media executives as well as representatives of the academia.
Delivering his paper titled “Hate Speech and the Right to Freedom of Expression in Democratic Governance: The Legal Perspectives”, the President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights(CDHR), Barrister Malachy Ugwummadu stood strongly against the bill from his point of view that it was uncalled for and unnecessary since some past legislation and laws easily could suffice for its intention, although by slight modifications, if at all, necessary.
“The United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) under Article 20 provides that:
•any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
•any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence shall be prohibited by law”, he said.
According to him, the above law already serves as a limitation or regulation of freedom of speech and justifies the attempt to legislate on the prohibition and punishment for hate speech.
In other words, with the existence of this law and with Nigeria also pertaking in its enactment, it would have been unnecessary to further on passing another bill on hate speech.
Subsequent to his definition of hate speech as any form of communication that expresses hatred and attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender, Ugwummadu went further to throw light on some other bills/laws that had been in existence in Nigeria which also make it unnecessary to further on the hate speech bill. The laws, according to him include the Public Order Act- which prevented citizenry from complaining about injustices perpetrated during the colonial era and challenges the full observance of section 39 of the constitution on freedom of expression; the Frivolous Petition Bill- which recommended that anyone wanting to file an petition against the government was required to accompany such with an affidavit which would make the process of complaining about public officers cumbersome and expensive, and to which a fine of N2million or a two year prison sentence was attached for erring individuals; and of course, the recent social media bill which has not seen the light of the day because of the sitting President Buhari’s refusal to give it his assent.
“The inherent fear implicitly noticeable is that the government of the day may resort to the use of the Hate Speech bill as a tool to hunt people who hold divergent views and opinions, which is surely a recipe for a breach of a major fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press”, Ugwummadu concluded.
The Director, International Press Centre(IPC), Lagos, Mr. Lanre Arogundade in his paper titled “Freedom of Expression and the combat of Hate Speech in Nigeria- A Media/CSO Perspective” said hate speech was coined by a group of legal scholars in the US in what they saw as the way different legal systems tackled certain sorts of harmful racial speech, noting that its genesis in Nigeria was more associated with political campaigns of the past 2015 elections.
Categorically stating what the International Press Centre stood for, pertaining to the Hate Speech bill, he said: “Like many other civil society and media groups, the IPC does not support the bill because of the tendency of its abuse. The proposal to set up a commission on Hate Speech would amount to creation of another bureaucracy and waste of public resources. The wielders of power would abuse the law by constituting themselves into the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge, in their own case”.
“The way forward, as proposed in our March 2, this year press release is that what the country needs today is engagement by multiple stakeholders to examine the effective measures to address hate speech”, he noted.
Earlier in his keynote address at the occasion, the Chairman, Media Committee, OneVoice Coalition and Executive Director, Independent Advocacy Project, Pastor Adedeji Adeleye referred to the intention to institute the hate speech bill as “a national embarrassment “.
His delivery noted that from the perspectives that such a law could be used by politicians to hunt down opposition and critical civil society operators; and the fact that there already exist sufficient extant laws that could take care of hate speech in Nigeria, there was absolutely no need for the acceptance of the hate speech bill, especially as it attracts maximum death sentences for erring individuals.
Furthering, he said: “The proponents of the hate speech bill should be made aware of challenges inherent in its adoption in two major areas- defining hate speech, that is, determining what constitutes hate speech; and the effectiveness of using the law to actually and truly curb hate speech”.
“In most of the countries where hate speech had been abhorred, there had never been death but prison sentences. What should warrant death sentence for it in Nigeria? It should be realised that in Nigeria, the line between offensive and hate speech could be blurred. While proper hate speeches- those that pass the ‘clear and imminent danger’ test should be criminalised (certainly not with death penalty), my candid opinion is that we should use non-legal instruments to deal with offensive speeches”, he concluded.
By and large, and in the opinion of this writer, present and future leaders should be conscientious in their governance roles by seeking to unflinchingly protect the rights of the citizenry that are their constituents. A government that creates an enabling environment for equity, fairness and justice needs less fear of upheavals and strife from its citizenry and a citizenry that is free from oppression, repression and injustice also puts more time into harnessing available resources to better its lot.