A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has said the Nigerian government’s classification of hate speech as a form of terrorism is a plot to gag the citizens.
Mr. Adegboruwa said in a statement Saturday that any law capable of hindering the freedom of expression granted under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter would be illegal and unconstitutional
“First, I do not agree on the concept of hate speeches,” Mr. Adegboruwa said.
“The Constitution in Section 39 has granted an unqualified freedom of expression to every citizen. If any speech made has violated anybody’s legal rights at all, there is the extant common law remedy of libel actions for damages in civil cases and criminal libel in criminal cases.”
Mr. Adegboruwa’s position came as Acting President Yemi Osinbajo lashed out at purveyors of hate speech across the country, likening them to terrorists.
“As I have said, we have drawn a line against hate speech, it will not be tolerated, it will be taken as an act of terrorism and all of the consequences will follow,” said Mr. Osinbajo, a professor of law, during a National Economic Council security retreat in Abuja last week.
But Mr. Adegboruwa said it had now become commonplace for government and government officials to seek to gag the people by seeking “all manner of restraint” of the freedom of speech.
“To that extent, I do not agree with the Acting President on the concept of hate speeches as terrorism. Every citizen should be allowed the freedom of expression under the law,” he said.
“Secondly, I believe that the National Assembly lacks the legal competence in law to pass into law any bill seeking to gag citizens. Such a law, if ever passed, will run counter to section 1 of the 1999 Constitution which has declared the constitution to be the supreme law.
“Any law capable of hindering the freedom of expression granted under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter will be illegal and unconstitutional. To that extent, the National Assembly has no power to make any law that will violate the constitution. It is ultra vires.
“It is in the light of the above that I find it difficult to agree with this current government declaration that there is need for a new law to regulate what people term as hate speeches. This is just an attempt by the ruling Apc government to gag citizens and if such law is ever passed, we shall challenge it in court.”
The Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, had earlier taken a similar position as Mr. Adegboruwa against the federal government’s categorisation of hate speeches as acts of terrorism.
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