The Hate Speech Bill has continued to elicit reactions from Nigerians who feel that the bill is nothing but a surreptitious attempt to stifle free speech in the country. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Sabi Abdullahi Aliyu, has continued to insist on the need for the bill and that he was not backing down in spite of backlash from Nigerians.
Senator Aliyu, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, said that he first initiated the bill during the lifespan of the 8th National Assembly but that he did not take action on it afterwards but that since he returned to the 9th Senate he believes it is time the bill was passed. Aliyu, who was the spokesman of the 8th Senate, insists that there is a direct link between certain violent actions in the country and hate speech. He said inciting utterances by people tend to exacerbate religious and ethnic fault lines in the country. He maintained that many people have lost their lives due to the activities of hate speech purveyors.
“If anything, I have seen studies conducted where the issues of violence were catalogued, particularly electoral violence and hate speech featured prominently as a major cause. This clearly shows that if we allow hate speech to fester, it means we won’t get good governance and it would also be difficult to fight corruption,” Aliyu stated.
It is interesting that Aliyu mentioned corruption in the forgoing quote, the question therefore is shouldn’t that monster that has been inimical to the country’s development in the past decades not be of more concern to the senator? Why is he not promoting a bill to criminalise corruption with death by hanging as penalty?
Quite clearly, Aliyu and many members of the National Assembly will not criminalise corruption let alone recommend death because they will likely face the hangman themselves if they dare go that route. Just recently President Muhammadu Buhari made a disclosure to the effect that N1trillion was frittered away by National Assembly (NASS) members in the last 10 years. Within hours of the announcement by the president, NASS members pushed back, denying the claim. Clearly these people do not want their activities questioned by Nigerians, so they would come up with all sorts of trick to achieve that aim.
It is in this light that the Hate Speech Bill is perceived by many. It is viewed as an attempt to muzzle citizens from exercising their right to free speech. Nigerians, having been traumatised and pauperized by successive governments, have become more acerbic in their criticisms. Apparently, politicians are finding it difficult coping with the very damning comments of Nigerians and they are looking for ways to curtail that freedom.
The attempt by Aliyu to mask his bill under national interest will not fly, certainly not at this time when government has demonstrated an aversion to criticisms. The prevailing atmosphere has been one where sundry activists who spoke out against certain policies and actions have been thrown into custody with entreaties that such people be released largely unheeded by government.
Journalists have been routinely detained by governments at various levels for speaking out against certain ills in society. Omoyele Sowore has been in detention for months now despite a competent court granting him bail and satisfying the bail conditions. His offence was that he called for revolution to protest the direction the country is headed under Buhari’s administration.
So, Nigerians are sceptical about the true intention of the bill and they have earned the right to be suspicious of Aliyu and his Greek gift. The prescription of death by hanging for the offence shocked Nigerians and it would have been laughable if not for the seriousness of the matter. Perhaps it is in response to this outrage that the sponsors are now trying to remove the death penalty from the cards. But they have tipped their hands already; Nigerians know that the true motivation of the bill is to rob them of their inalienable rights to freedom of speech.
We want to state without equivocation that this bill should be thrown out. It should not be allowed to see the light of day. Thankfully, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who has shown himself to be one of those on the side of the people, has underlined his opposition to the bill.
“…What I can assure you is that this Senate cannot be a party to removing the rights of Nigerians from whatever is enshrined in the constitution. The constitution says under Section 39 that we have rights, including freedom of speech. Freedom to hold and espouse ideas. I can assure you that the 9th Senate will not breach your rights. I do not think that Nigerians who fought to bring us to the point where we are and bring us to democratic government will willingly give it away and make us go back to the dark days of suppression,” Abaribe assured Nigerians.
We enjoin Abaribe and others not to relent in their fight against this obnoxious bill and such other actions designed to further muzzle dissent and free speech.