• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Ethnic hatred, abusive words, discrimination can be regarded as Hate speech

Ahmed Lawan

Ethnic hatred, discrimination and use of abusive words against any person or persons from an ethnic group in Nigeria, are major circumstances that can be regarded as hate speech, for which the Senate is proposing death by hanging as a penalty.

A law proposed by Senate to prohibit hate speech passed first reading in 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 being proposed to regulate unwarranted acts by persons who often display acts to cause disrelish.

Apart from ethnic hatred and use of abusive words, other acts pointed out in the bill which can be regarded as hate speech are use of threatening words intended to stir up hatred.

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 stated.

The bill further explained that “ethnic hatred means hatred against a group of persons from any ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria”.

Besides hate speech, the bill has pointed out other culpable acts such as ethnic discrimination, harassment on the basis of ethnicity, the offence of racial contempt and discrimination by way of victimization 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 another person’s 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 practice which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same race,  ethnic or national origins as the  other.

“A person victimise 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 when hate speech and other matters related with are committed, the bill stated 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 acting Senate spokesperson, Senator Godiya Akwashiki (Nasarawa South) has said there is no cause for alarm over the punishment meted out to culprits of hate speech.

Akwashiki, who stated this on Wednesday in an interview, however appealed to Nigerians to be patient, assuring that the bill would not in any way infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

“We have a process of enacting a law or an act in the National Assembly or in the state Assembly. The process starts with the First reading, when the Leader of the Senate will read it for the first time. The Second reading is taken after the bill has been subjected to debate on the floor of the Senate. Once a bill scales second reading,  it has to go to the committee and would return to the house again.

“If it is a bill that will represent the wishes and interest of Nigerians,  it will scale second reading. If it is a bill that will create hardship for the people of Nigeria and crisis, it will be killed on the floor of the Senate by senators when it comes for second reading,” he noted.

He urged Nigerians to exercise patience with the Senate, pointing out that it was not appropriate for him to discuss a bill that had not been mentioned for the second time on the floor of the Senate. According to him, when the bill comes for second reading,  it would be clear 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,” he said.

“We are representing the local people even in the village. That bill even if scales second reading, it will protect your interest (as journalists) and give you immunity to make sure you do your job justifiably without fear,” Akwashiki stated.