The Nigerian Senate has said the controversial hate speech bill will not pass if it will bring “hardship” to Nigerians.
A spokesperson for the upper legislative arm on Wednesday urged patience amid widespread uproar that has greeted the reintroduction of the bill this week.
The vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Media, Godiya Akwashiki, said at a press conference that Nigerians should allow the bill to go through the normal lawmaking procedure.
“If the bill reflects the wishes and interests of Nigerians, it will scale second reading. If it will create hardship on the people of Nigeria, I want to assure you it will be killed by other senators when it is in its second reading,” Mr Akwashiki said.
“I want to urge you to exercise patience with the senate because it is not legally wise for me to discuss the bill. Yes, it has not been mentioned for the second time on the floor of the Senate; even if it scales second reading, it will protect your interests and give immunity without fear or favour. I want to assure you,” he said.
There has been widespread condemnation after the Senate on Tuesday reintroduced the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill which seeks to punish persons found guilty of hate speech.
The bill is sponsored by the deputy chief whip, Aliyu Abdullahi, and it prescribes death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading a falsehood that led to the death of another person.
The bill also seeks the establishment of a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to help investigate and prosecute offenders.
A similar bill was introduced to the Senates in March 2018 but did not make it through to third reading.
Many civic groups have kicked against the bill because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.
They say the provisions of the bill would be contrary to the Nigerian Constitution if the bill becomes law as designed. The Constitution protects the rights to unhindered speech, expression, and association.
A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has also cautioned Nigerian senators against moves to pass the bill. He said the freedom of speech and other key elements of civil liberties that Nigerians enjoyed between 1999 and 2015 should be maintained.
Meanwhile, a minister said on Wednesday that the new bill is unnecessary as the CyberCrime Act already has provisions and penalties for hate speech.
The Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, said this after the Federal Executive Council meeting.
“Be that as it may, I think the Cybercrime Act, there is a law already in Nigeria, the cybercrime Act that has the hate speech aspect in it. The reason I am not privileged to know the sponsor of the particular bill that you mentioned, but there is a law. I stand to be corrected, I think it was passed in 2014/2015 I am not particularly sure but there is a law that takes care of…
“Because cybercrime is now a major issue and as you know internationally, the world over, everybody is concerned about it being the new frontier to fight crime. So hate speech is within that cybercrime aspect,” she said.