Nigeria: Hate Speech Bill 'Not Necessary' - Minister

(file photo).
13 November 2019

The hate speech bill currently before the Senate is unnecessary, Nigeria's Minister of State for Petroleum, Gbemisola Saraki, has said.

Ms Saraki said the CyberCrime Act already has provisions and penalties for hate speech.

She made this statement after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday while reacting to the reintroduction of the 'hate speech' bill.

The Senate on Tuesday reintroduced the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill which seeks to penalise persons found guilty of hate speech.

The bill was 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 Senate in March 2018 but did not make it to third reading.

"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.

The Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc.) Act 2015 which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan, outlaws "cyberstalking" and stipulates that "any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or

"He knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment."

Section 2 of the legislation further stated that any person who intentionally transmits any communication through a computer system or network to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person" commits an offence under the act and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N25,000,000.00.

Call for patience

Meanwhile, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media, Godiya Akwashiki, has asked Nigerians to be patient with the Senate and allow the bill go through the normal procedure.

He said if the bill will bring hardship on the people, the Senate will not pass it.

"We have a process of enacting a law or an Act either in state or national assembly. The process starts with a bill which is just a proposal. In the second reading, the bill has to be subjected to a debate by other senators were once that bill scales second reading, it moves to the committee then back to the house.

"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 2nd reading.

"I want to urge you to exercise patience with the Senate because it is not legally wise for me to discuss the bill that has not been mentioned for the second time in 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.

The reintroduction of the bill has generated controversies among Nigerians. Some civic groups have kicked against the bill because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.

They said the provisions of the bill are contrary to the Nigerian Constitution. 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.

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