Nigerians have again expressed their opposition to the Hate Speech and Anti-social Media Bills proposed by the National Assembly.
he bills are christened Internet Falsehood Manipulation Bill and Establishment of National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill.
The sponsors of the Bills, Senators Sani Musa (APC Niger East) and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), were further advised to withdraw the bills from the Senate, in the interest of the Nation’s democracy.
This was the outcome of a Town Hall meeting organised by African Independent Television (AIT) held at the NAF Conference Centre Abuja on Monday.
Out of eight panelists that spoke at the meeting, only one supported the bills. The rest called for immediate withdrawal of the bills.
The panelists, who vehemently kicked against the bills are the former Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission ( NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu, the Chief Executive Officer, Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal, among others.
They said the two bills were formulated to infringe on the freedom of press and speech as enshrined in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution.
Odinkalu in his submission said neither the anti-social media bill nor the hate speech bill would address the pervasive poverty and increasing wave of insecurity in the land.
According to him , it was ironic that the sponsors of the bills are from Niger state where innocent lives are being lost on daily basis to uncontrolled and unchecked attacks from armed bandits without any bill in that direction.
“Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi who sponsored the Hate Speech bill spent 20 minutes on presentation without mentioning a provision while Senator Mohammed Sani Musa laboured to convince us that the anti-social bill is not meant to stifle freedom of speech which by all intents and purposes , is the case.
“Nigerians want bills that will facilitate improvement of their well-being and security of their lives and property.
“Extant laws abound on what the two bills are aiming at. What is the work of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), National Human Rights Commission etc., that will warrant establishment of National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech?,” he asked.
Hamzat Lawal in his own objection to the bills raised two posers on who to decide hate speech or fake news.
He said rather than wasting time and tax payers’ money on such bills, they should be discarded by the sponsors and if they refused, they should be rejected by the Senate.
Antagonism against the bills worsened when discussions on them were extended to the audience in form of questions and answers as virtually all who contributed rejected them out rightly.
Also, National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists ( NUJ) , Chris Iziguzo, said the two bills were anti-people , anti-freedom of speech and against the media which would be prevented from seeing the light of the day.
Other speakers like Deji Adeyanju of Concerned Nigerians Group and Daniel Makido, also kicked against the bills during the questions and answers session
However, the sponsors of the bills in separate interviews with journalists after the Town Hall meeting, vowed to continue the push for bills’ consideration and possible passage , saying the bills were not about them but about unity and peaceful coexistence of Nigerians.
Meanwhile, President of the Senate, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, has said that the National Assembly is open to suggestions from Nigerians on the best ways to tackle the menace of hate speech and fake news.
Lawan said there was need to address the challenge of hate speech and fake news in the Nigerian society.
“We are here today because of some of these challenges, which are the challenges of hate speech and fake news. Added to this is the extent to which government should intervene. Important also is the need to come to an understanding on the best approach in finding a way forward.
“I need to reiterate that we are a democratic nation, where dialogue, conversation, disagreement and agreement are central to how we resolve issues. When exchanges are meaningful, we are sure to have a productive outcome. But when it is characterised with ceaseless conflict, I doubt if there can be progress.”
“This is the direction that the National Assembly has always followed, by asking citizens to be involved in the democratic process. Of course, democracy is about inclusion and participation.
“We do not expect these features only in the provision of the dividends of democracy, but also in the processes that lead to it,” Lawan said.