A bill prescribing death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person has received the first reading at the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by the Senate spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi (Niger-APC), seeks the establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches.
The proposed commission would enforce hate speech laws across the country, and ensure the “elimination” of hate speech, the bill says.
For offences such as harassment on grounds of ethnicity or race, 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 proposes 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” commits an offence.
The charge would be justified if such a person intends to stir up “ethnic hatred”.
The bill has gone through the first reading.
Mr. Abdullahi said cases of religious and ethnic violence experienced in the past years in Nigeria informed his decision to sponsor the bill.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES Friday, Mr. Abdullahi said the bill proposes various ‘mechanisms’ to prevent cases of death which emanate from hate speeches.
“For me, it’s in response to the series of events. With all intents and purposes, it is motivated by what we term hate speech in the real technical sense,” he said.
“In the past couple of years in this country, hate speech is driven by many variables; the issue of religion and ethnicity and because of that, a lot of lives have been lost. They question I want to ask is why.
“Why must I die because I am somebody and somebody somewhere feels otherwise and makes statement that at the end of the day provokes intense anger and rage leading to violence, breakdown of law and order and I lose my life, my family, and sometimes I never even get to recover and nobody is even punished?
“This is becoming a contemporary problem if you look at it in the past couple of years. It is assuming a dangerous dimension for us to ignore. I am of the opinion that we must learn from history. There are lots of cases where violence that is unusual either from individuals or groups was actually motivated by hate speeches.
“I sat and I said we just have to find a way of having a system in place that will systematically address this issue and get people to realise that is the way to go.
“The bill is not really looking at the policy side, there are lots of mechanism to moderate our discourse, engagement in a manner that we don’t overheat the polity and in the process endanger other people’s lives,” he said.
The Buhari administration has in recent months pledged tougher actions against hate speech, amid rampant abuse mostly on the social media.
Last month, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said hate speech offenders would be punished in accordance with the 2011 Anti Terrorism Act.
He was speaking at a conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Kano.
Last year, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, announced a bill against hate speech had been submitted to the justice ministry for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
It is not clear whether the bill would be an amendment of the 2011 Anti-Terrorism Act, or an entirely new bill.
“That draft speech contains the laws and punishment for hate speech. Hate speech should not be allowed in this country, everybody is entitled to belong to the religion he believes in,” Mr. Dambazau said.
“I mean people don’t choose the tribe to be, that’s how God brought him and there is absolutely no reason for hate speech. So, if the national assembly passes that law, certainly anybody who is engaged in hate speech will be prosecuted in accordance with the law.”