It’s a Move to Stifle Freedom Of Speech, Make Media Buckle Under–Atiku, Falana In a move interpreted as an attempt to restrict the freedom of speech, stifle the media and further shrink the public space in the country, the Senate has reintroduced a Bill which criminalises Hate Speech with offenders liable to face death by
It’s a Move to Stifle Freedom Of Speech, Make Media Buckle Under–Atiku, Falana
In a move interpreted as an attempt to restrict the freedom of speech, stifle the media and further shrink the public space in the country, the Senate has reintroduced a Bill which criminalises Hate Speech with offenders liable to face death by hanging. The Bill was earlier introduced last year but had to be withdrawn on account of public outcry.
The Bill titled: “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2019 (SB 154)” and sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, scaled the first reading on Tuesday..
In line with the tradition of the Senate, the new Bill was introduced by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, All Progressive Congress (APC), Kebbi North and affirmed by the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Nelson Ayewor.
The Senate had last week in a move to further asphyxiate freedom of speech, introduced legislation to regulate the social media and also to punish what it termed “abuse of social media” with a three-year jail term or N150,000 option of fine or both.
The social media regulation Bill titled: “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019” was sponsored by the APC Senator representing Niger East, Mohammed Sani Musa.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed had vowed that the Federal Government is poised to regulate the Social Media.
Senator Abdullahi who represents Niger North, had sponsored the same Hate Speech Bill during the Eight Senate but the offensive Bill which attracted widespread condemnation never returned for second reading in the upper house before the end of its tenure.
The Bill had prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.
It also sought the establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches.
The Bill as presented to the Eight Senate had proposed that the commission would enforce Hate Speech laws across the country, and ensure the “elimination” of hate speech.
For offences such as harassment on grounds of ethnicity or race, the Bill had proposed that the offender shall be sentenced to “not less than a five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.”
The Bill had also proposed that, “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, 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 behaviour” committed an offence.
It added that the charge would be justified if such a person intends to stir up “ethnic hatred”.
A critical look at the new Bill showed that it is not different from the old one presented in the Eight Senate by the same sponsor.
Provisions of Hate Speech Bill
The Bill retained a provision that any offender found guilty under the Act when passed would die by hanging.
“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,” the Bill said.
On Hate Speech, the Bill provides that “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 behaviour 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.
“In this section, ethnic hatred means hatred against a group if the person is from any ethical group indigenous today Nigeria.
On discrimination against persons, the Bill also provides that: “For the purpose of this act, a person who discriminates against another person if on ethnic grounds the person without any lawful justification treats another Nigerian citizen less favourably than he treats or would treat other person from his ethnic or another ethnic group and/or that on grounds of ethnicity a person put another person at a particular disadvantage when compared with other persons from other nationality of Nigeria.
“A person also discriminates against another person if, in any circumstances relevant for the purposes referred to in subsection (1) (b), he applies to that person of any provision, criterion or practice which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same race, ethnic or national origins as that other.”
On harassment on the basis of ethnicity, the Bill further provides that “A person (who) subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this section where on ethnic grounds, he justifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of: a) Violating that other person’s dignity or b) Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.
“Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in subsection (1) (a) or (b) of this section if, having regard to all circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as saying that effect.
“A person who subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to an imprisonment for a term not less than ten years, or to a fine of not less than Ten million Naira, or to both.”
On Offence of ethnic or racial contempt, the Bill provides that “Any person who knowingly utters words to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than Ten million Naira, or to both.”
On Discrimination by way of victimization, the Bill provides that “A person victimizes another if in any circumstance relevant for the purpose of this Act, the person does any act that is injurious to the wellbeing and esteem of another person by eating the person to less favourably than, in those circumstances, such person treats or would treat other persons, and does so by reason that the person victimized has:
“(a) Made a complaint under this Act; (b) Otherwise done anything under or by reference to this, (c) Given evidence or information in connection with proceedings brought by any person against any other person under this Act; or (d) By reason that the person who has violated the provision(s) of this Act knows that the persons victimized intend to do any of those things, or suspects that the person victimised has done or intend to do, any of them.
“A person who subjects or threatens to subject another person to any detriment because the other person, or a person associated with the other person: (i) has made a complaint against any person; (ii) has brought any other proceedings under this Act against any person; (iii) has given evidence or information, or produced a document, in connection with any proceedings under this Act; (iv) has otherwise done anything in accordance with this Act in relation to any person;
“(v) has contravened a provision of Pan III, unless the allegation is false and was not made in good faith; (vi) has refused to do anything in accordance the allegation is false and was made in good faith;
“(b) fails to comply with a notice by the Commission under section 57; (c) hinders or obstructs a Commissioner, member of staff of the Commission or the Secretary in the exercise of powers or the performance of functions under this Act;
“(d) uses insulting language towards a Commissioner, member of staff of the Commission or the Secretary when the member Commissioner, Member of staff 01′ Secretary is exercising powers or performing functions under this Act; or
“(e) gives any information or makes any statement to the Commission, the Secretary or a person acting on behalf of the Commission or the Secretary in exercise of powers or the performance of functions under this Act which the person knows is false or misleading in any material particular, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of two million naira or to imprisonment for a term not less than twelve months or both.”
On Offences by body of persons, the Bill said that “In the case of an offence under this Act committed by a body of persons” (a) where the body of persons is a body corporate, every director, trustee and officer of that body corporate shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence; and
“(b) where the body of persons is a firm, every partner of that firm shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence”
The objectives and functions of the proposed commission on Hate Speech, according to the Bill includes to facilitate and promote a harmonious peaceful co-existence within the people of all ethnic groups indigenous to Nigeria and more importantly to achieve this objective by ensuring the elimination of all forms of hate speeches in Nigeria, and to advise the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on all aspects thereof.
It added that without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Commission shall:
“Promote the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against any person(s) or ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria.
“Discourage persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches.
“Promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encourage full participation by all ethnic communities in social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities;
“Plan, supervise, co-ordinate and promote educational and training programs to create public awareness, support and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups;
“Promote respect for religions, cultural, linguistic and other forms of diversity in a plural society;
“Promote equal access and enjoyment by persons of all ethnic communities and racial groups to public or other services and facilities provided by the Government;
“Promote arbitration, conciliation, mediation and similar forms of dispute resolution mechanisms in order to secure and enhance ethnic and racial harmony and peace;
“Investigate complaints of ethnic or racial discrimination and make recommendation to the Attorney-General, the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant authority on the remedial measures to be taken where such complaints are valid.”
The Commission shall also: “Investigate on its own accord or on request from any institution, office, or person any issue affecting ethnic and racial relations;
“Identify and analyze factors inhibiting the attainment of harmonious relations between ethnic communities, particularly barriers to the participation of any ethnic community in social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political endeavours, and recommend to the Government and any other relevant public or private body how these factors should be overcome;
“Determine strategic priorities in all the socio -economic political and development policies of the Government impacting on ethnic relations and advise on their implementation;
“Recommend to the Government criteria for deciding whether any public office or officer has committed acts of discrimination on the ground of ethnicity or race;
“Monitor and review all legislation and all administrative acts relating to or having implication for ethnic or race relations and, from time to time, prepare and submit to the Government proposals for revision of such legislation and administrative acts;
“Initiate, lobby for and advocate for policy, legal or administrative reforms on issues affecting ethnic relations;
“Monitor and make recommendations to the government and other relevant public and private sector bodies on factors inhibiting the development and harmonious relations between ethnic groups and on barriers to the participation of all ethnic groups in the social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political life of the people;
“Undertake research and studies and make recommendations to the Government on any issue relating to ethnic affairs including whether ethnic relations are improving;
“Make recommendations to the Government on any issue relating to ethnic affairs including whether ethnic relations are improving;
“Monitor and report annually to the Nation Assembly the status and success of implementation of its recommendations;
“Issue notices directing person, persons or institutions involve in actions or conduct amounting to violations on the basis of ethnicity or race to stop such actions or conduct within a given period; and
“Do all other acts and things as may be necessary to facilitate the efficient discharge of its functions.”
Justifying Social Media Bill
The Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Sani Musa, has said that his Bill on Social Media was aimed at guiding the users and not to gag media practitioners in Nigeria.
The Bill titled, “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, passed first reading on the floor of the Senate last week.
Justifying his reasons for introducing the Bill in an interview with journalists, Musa said it was aimed at ensuring sanity on social media.
He said individuals who post false information on the internet, when found guilty would be asked to pay a fine of N150, 000 or they are sentenced to three months imprisonment.
The Senator added that any corporate organisation that refused to block false information after the regulating agency had alerted it would be asked to pay a fine ranging from N5m to N10m.
He also said telecommunications firms that allow their network to be used to disseminate false information, could risk yet-to-determined sanctions.
“For a country like Nigeria today and with the advent of social media, there is every reason for a country to as much as possible focus its attention to see how this new media can be tolerated.”
He said it was possible for individuals to stay in a room and post a piece of false information just to attack someone.
The Senator said, “I have a passion for IT and I know what it takes to disseminate your information, it is at the speed of light.
“Some journalists will look at this legislation as if we are trying to bring a law that will gag the social media or the right to free press.
“It is a legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on social media.
“False information has been disseminated so many times and they have caused so much chaos in different parts of the world.
“There are so many things that are positive within social media. For instance, a young lady that is getting married and wants the world to know could do so through social media.
“I felt we need it in this country. If countries like Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia, Egypt are attempting to control social media to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it?
“There has never been a time when Nigeria has been very fragile in terms of its unity than this period.
According to him, the Social Media Bill is not to stop people from going online to do whatever they feel is legitimate. What is wrong is for you to use the medium to document information that you know is false, just because you want to achieve your desirable interest.
“If you commit an offence of this nature, and by virtue of what you have committed, the law enforcement agencies will take you to the court.
“There will be a court process that will prove that you have done something wrong.
“You can appeal. It will serve as deterrence to others, we should fix certain penalties that when you know you will cough out something, you won’t do it.
Knocks for the Bill
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Candidate, Mr Atiku Abubakar says “The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech.”
According to a statement signed by Mr Paul Ibe, his media adviser, Atiku urges those behind this Bill to awake to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation, because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. “It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.”
“Freedom of Speech was not just bestowed to Nigerians by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is also a divine right given to all men by their Creator. History is littered with the very negative unintended consequences that result when this God given right is obstructed by those who seek to intimidate the people rather than accommodate them.
“We should be reminded that history does not repeat itself. Rather, men repeat history. And often, to disastrous consequences.
“Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns. We are now the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as the global epicentre of out-of-school children. Our economy is smaller than it was in 2015, while our population is one of the world’s fastest growing. We have retrogressed in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, from the position we held four years ago, and our Human Development Indexes are abysmally low.
“It therefore begs the question: should we not rather make laws to tackle these pressing domestic challenges, instead of this Bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious?
Atiku cautions that “we must prioritise our challenges ahead of the whims and caprices of those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth. Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians.”
Rights activist and lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, a Senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) says this charade to stifle the media is part of the grand design to launch a third term campaign ahead of the 2023 Presidential race.
Speaking at the presentation of Testimony To Courage, a book in honour of the Editor in Chief, Premium Times, Mr Dapo Olorunyomi in Lagos, Falana, says those behind the move have activated the process by a deliberate attempt to oppress the media and whittle their influence and other perceived obstacles.
“Let me say this, our country has gone to the dogs and the media must help, you have to help and that is why the war is against the media because for the 2023 race, the media must be silenced, we may have a third term campaign very soon,” he says.
“Very soon they are going to destroy all possible opponents and they have started. So by the time they bring the third term agenda, the media would have been gone, but we are not going to allow it.”
Also speaking at the event, Senator Shehu Sani said that the country has gradually moved back to dictatorship, warning that citizens must rise up to defend democracy, rule of law and institutions that check the excesses of the executive.
Sani says that unless people that fought for the enthronement of democracy in 1999 go back to the trenches to defend what he described as “our hard gained freedom, the current systemic abuse of rule of law”, will continue.
He said Nigerians have become complacent and lazy over the years with the wrong perception that democracy will protect their freedom.
“All the institutions of democracy that were supposed to defend our freedom have been cowed. We have seen a systemic pattern of the abuse of rule of law. Court orders are no longer obeyed and we have developed culture of fear and silence. The monster of dictatorship is back.
“We have allowed the likes of Charley Boy to lead protests in defence of our freedom, thereby making joke of important voice of dissent. Political parties as they exist today can’t defend our rights. No institution of democracy that is as important as an awoken citizens. We have to continue to be vigilant to defend our democracy and our rights. Indeed, we have to go back to the trenches”.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has advised the Federal Government to rescind the decision to regulate the Social Media, as such measure is in clear contravention of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), which guarantees every Nigerian citizen the right to “freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
The Guild reminds the Federal Government of the dire consequences of similar attempts in the past to gag freedom of speech, as such initiatives were usually misconstrued by security agents and some public officials to harass, arrest and in most cases, illegally detain journalists and other Nigerians for holding their opinions.
Advising the Federal Government to seek ways to maximize social media to disseminate information on the activities and policies of government, rather than its current attempt to stifle it, the Guild urges the government to engage the founders and promoters of social media, namely: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter among others – to creatively find ways of sieving information disseminated through their respective channels, to curtail extremisms of violence and hate speech.
Recognising that Nigeria is already in the red zone of nations with very poor record of Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech, the Guild notes, for instance, that the 2019 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders places Nigeria in a distant 120th position among 180 nations under review.
Also, in the 2019 Global Impunity Index published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), which chronicles countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials, and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical views, dissent and particularly the media, Nigeria ranks as high as the 12th position, sharing the top bracket with impunity-prone and conflict-riddled nations like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Pakistan etcetera.
Sadly, this is not a good profile and the Federal Government of Nigeria should not take further actions that would add to this unpleasant tar on the nation by seeking to ‘sanitise’ Social Media but, should rather build bridges and collaborations with the Nigerian media and promoters of social media. Such synergy and partnership in an Information Age, is the best way to make the most of the advantages of social media which far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
The Guild notes that Nigeria has enough extant laws, including the Cyber Crime Act 2015, to deal with issues of ‘Hate Speech’ and ‘Fake News’. It urges the government to test such laws in the courts of competent jurisdictions in accordance with due process of the law rather than create another legal instrument and atmosphere that would give agents of state the latitude to harass and criminalise citizens especially journalists.
The Guild observes that in most cases, it is the officials of governments at all levels that push out Fake News and Hate Speech by their words and actions; stressing that it behoves government actors to check their actions and utterances.
The Guild also called on government and security agencies to release forthwith all journalists being detained nationwide, as their continued detention run contrary to the grains of the Constitution.
Photo: Senate President, Ahmad Lawan