Senate Deputy Chief Whip and Senator representing Niger North, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi on Sunday said that his controversial Hate Speech Bill, which proposed “death by hanging” for offenders would be reworked upon to suit the wishes of Nigerians before passage.
The Bill titled: “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2019” scaled first reading in the Senate on November 12, 2019.
The Bill 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”.
“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 added.
It could be recalled that despite a barrage of attacks against the Bill by Nigerians, Senator Abdullahi, who represents Niger North had insisted that he would soon lead the debate for the second reading of the Bill at plenary.
However, Abdullahi in a statement made available to Senate Correspondents in Abuja on Sunday, said the Bill would now undergo some fine-tuning to ensure that the clauses contained in its provisions to be passed into law reflect the views of Nigerians.
He added that the Senate welcomed contributions and inputs by critics and supporters of the Bill, as these would go a long way towards giving Nigerians the much awaited law to address the disturbing trend of hate speech.
Hate speech, according to him, has led to the death of many and is a major factor behind depression and suicide in Nigeria.
Abdullahi said: “We have followed closely arguments for and against the hate speech bill, and seen the reason why some kicked against it.
“Given the high respect which we have for Nigerians, we will make amendment to the death penalty aspect that most Nigerians objected to, so that a bill that meets their expectations is passed into law.
“Clearly from the conversations, Nigerians agree that we have a problem in the society today as a result of hate speech which has fueled so many killings and violence, and is responsible for cases of depression and suicides.”
Citing a World Health Organization report, Abdullahi disclosed that Nigeria which is the seventh-largest country in the world “has Africa’s highest rate of depression and ranks fifth in the world frequency of suicide.”
The Senator explained that the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to be established would guard against every act of discrimination against Nigerians by way of victimization.
The Commission, according to Abdullahi, will have an executive chairperson, a secretary and twelve commissioners appointed through rigorous process involving the National Council of State, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the National Assembly.
In order to protect the independence of the commission, he said that the Bill provides that those qualified to be appointed as members of the commission must not be: members of the National Assembly or any government in authority at the Local, State or Federal Levels.
The lawmaker added that any person, who is a member of any political party or known to be affiliated with partisan politics, or has promoted sectional, ethnic, religious causes or openly advocated partisan ethnic positions or interest, stands disqualified from being appointed to serve on the commission.
“The overall concern is to curb violence and unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods of Nigerians due to hate-induced violence,” Abdullahi added.
He recalled that the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, had in July, this year, warned against ethnic and religious demonisation, noting that such actions could trigger violent confrontation amongst Nigerians.
He said Kukah stated this while delivering a speech at a colloquium on fake news and hate speech organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies, an arm of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).
According to Kukah, “hate speech often precede any genocide experienced in history.
He said that Nigerians “have to be very careful” before the situation degenerates beyond control.