The plan by the Federal Government to regulate hate speech on social media was the highlight of the first day of Social Media Week 2020 which began in Lagos on Monday, with experts urging the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to clearly define the subject before moving for regulation.
A Bill to prohibit hate speech was last year introduced on the floor of the Senate, sponsored by Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC/Niger North), deputy whip of the Senate.
The Bill, aimed at instituting stiffer penalties to curb the ugly trend of hate speech, was first introduced by the 8th Senate but was not passed to become law.
The proposed law is a very extensive piece of legislation which covers a slew of possible wrongdoings, including the publication or presentation of material deemed to stir up ethnic hatred. It also takes aim at written or visual acts seen as threatening, abusive, insulting or offensive.
While the Federal Government through Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, threw its weight behind the Bill, it was greeted with widespread condemnation especially in the social media space which many said was the major target of the Bill. The minister said the new Bill “will address the existing lacunae in the areas of the regulation of the internet”.
But experts at a panel session hosted by Guardian Nigeria expressed concern that the Bill could be subject to misinterpretation if not properly defined.
Cheta Nwanze, lead partner, SBM Intelligence, said the Bill was not properly thought out having been plagiarised from Singapore that operates “authoritarianism”, hence it was not likely to work in the Nigerian context.
“We have a situation in Nigeria where justice is blind in one eye,” said Nwanze. “It is dependent on who you are, where you are from and who you know. Do we expect such a society to know what hate speech is?”
Nwanze said criticism was not peculiar to the Nigerian government as people criticise their elected officials when they believe they have performed below expectations. He harped on the need for public officials to know what to respond to.
“We need to re-educate ourselves, going to school is not to learn 2+2,” he said.
The government under Buhari has in recent times prosecuted social media commentators for what it perceived as inciting comments.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, said through her representative that while the government was committed to protecting freedom of speech, it would not fold its arms and let individuals set the country ablaze through their words.
“We don’t have a hate speech problem in the country, but if care is not taken, it will amount to that,” Dabiri-Erewa said. “That is where the government comes in to ensure that the country remains safe for all.”
There were other sessions at the Social Media Week, including one on the role of technology on financial inclusion organised by Stanbic IBTC.
BusinessDay’s session on impact investing and funding of SDGs in Nigeria will begin at 4pm today (Tuesday), with speakers that include Maryam Uwais, special advisor to the president on social investment; Sam Nwanze, chief investment officer, Heirs Holding; Olayinka David-West, academic director, Lagos Business School; Abasi Ene-Obong, founder, 54Gene, and Innocent Chukwuma, regional director, West Africa, Ford Foundation.