Ethnic hatred, discrimination and use of abusive words against any person or persons from an ethnic group in Nigeria are major infractions that can be regarded as hate speech for which the Senate is proposing the death penalty.
Other acts that can be regarded as hate speech include the use of threatening words intended to stir up hatred.
A Bill to establish a Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches passed first reading in the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill was first introduced by the 8th Senate but was not passed to become law.
The re-introduction of the bill in the 9th Senate, sponsored by the Deputy Whip of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North), is aimed at instituting stiffer penalties to curb the ugly trend of hate speech.
Specifically, the law is purportedly being proposed to regulate unwarranted acts by persons who often display acts to cause disrelish.
The proposed law, exclusively obtained by BusinessDay, further considers publishing of any material, presentation or play of any performance, as well as production and distribution of written or visual materials to spark disaffection as hate speech.
According to the bill, hate speech can be regarded as when “a person 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”.
“A person commits an offence if such person intends to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances ethnic hatred is likely to be stored up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria,” the bill said.
The bill further explained that “ethnic hatred means hatred against a group of persons from any ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria”.
Following the bill’s passing of first reading on Tuesday, Nigeria began to trend on twitter in the United Kingdom the country’s citizens in diaspora raised the alarm over the proposed law.
Nigerians in the UK came out in their numbers on the social media platform to express their opposition to the bill, making the word ‘Nigerians’ to be among the most trending words on UK Twitter.
“Hate speech is the problem of Senator Aliyu,” a UK-based Nigerian tweeted. “This man needs to be recalled, before he grows wings to propose a bill to checkmate the amount of oxygen we are breathing in.”
There is “no death penalty for those looting the nation dry, no penalty at all, but death penalty for ‘hate speech’?” another tweeted.
“This is no more democracy, no more,” Kingsley Efe (not real names), a London-based Nigerian, told BusinessDay on Wednesday.
Besides hate speech, the bill points out other culpable acts such as ethnic discrimination, harassment on the basis of ethnicity, offence of racial contempt and discrimination by way of victimisation which can also be regarded as offences that are punishable.
“For purpose of this Act, a person discriminates against another person if on ethnic grounds the person without any lawful justification treats another Nigerian citizen less favourably than he treats or would treat other person from his ethnic or another ethnic group and or that on grounds of ethnicity a person puts another person at a particular disadvantage when compared with other persons from other ethnic nationality of Nigeria.
“A person also discriminates against another person if, in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision referred to in subsection (1)(b), he applies to the person a provision, criterion or practise which he applies or would apply equally to persons, not of the same race, ethnic or national origins as that other.
“A person victimises another if, in any circumstance relevant for the purpose of this Act, the person does any act that is injurious to the well-being and esteem of another person by treating the person to less favourably than, in those circumstances, such person treats or would treat other persons,” it stated.
On punishment that goes with hate speech and other related matters, the bill states that “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.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Wednesday distanced itself from the proposed death penalty being prescribed for hate speech.
Gbemi Saraki, minister of state for transportation, while responding to questions on the Bill, said Nigerians should have nothing to fear, adding that the Bill “was a mere proposal”.
She said that the fact that the bill is prescribing death penalty does not mean it will necessarily pass like that.
In any case, she said, the nation already has Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act, 2015 which takes care of hate speech.
“Let me just address the issue of hate crime and the bill before the National Assembly. Like you rightly said, it’s a bill, it’s not yet law. So, the sponsor of the bill might have put the death penalty there. I think we are jumping the gun a bit. Like you said, he is proposing the bill, it’s not yet an act,” she said.
Godiya Akwashiki (Nasarawa South), acting Senate spokesperson, said on Wednesday there is no cause for alarm over the punishment proposed for culprits of hate speech.
Akwashiki, who stated this on Wednesday in an interview, however, appealed to Nigerians to be patient, assuring that the bill will not in any way infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
“I want to urge Nigerians to exercise patience with the Senate because it is not wise for me nor legally right for me to discuss a bill that has not been mentioned for the second time on the floor of the Senate. When the bill comes for second reading, then you will know where it is heading or what the Senate intends to do. I want to assure you that even if the bill scales second reading on the floor of the Senate, we are working for the progress and betterment of Nigerians,” Akwashiki said.
“We are representing the local people even in the village. That bill even, if it scales second reading, it will protect your interest (as journalists) and give you immunity to make sure you do your job justifiably without fear,” he said.
SOLOMON AYADO, TONY AILEMEN, Abuja, & ENDURANCE OKAFOR, in London