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Saturday, 16 November 2019

No Going Back On Hate Speech, Social Media Bills – Says APC Senators

No Going Back On Hate Speech, Social Media Bills – Says APC Senators

Sponsors of the controversial bills targeted at regulating social media and hate speech in Nigeria, senators Sani Musa and Sabi Abdullahi, have vowed not to withdraw the bills despite the public outcry that greeted the proposed legislation.

The All Progressives Congress lawmakers from Niger State, in separate interviews with our correspondent in Abuja, insisted that the bills were intended to create a society that would serve the overall interest of Nigerians.

Abdullahi, the Deputy Chief Whip, wondered why Nigerians who had yet to read the contents of the bills – which he said sought to establish a national commission on hate speech – were condemning them.

He argued that Nigeria needed such bills at its current stage of development.

The ex-Senate spokesperson said, “I will not drop the bill. In the first instance, I sponsored this bill of my own volition. Nobody asked me to do so. I did all the research and I have my strong reasons for coming up with this.

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“There is a stage in our development as a country that we have reached where we have to have caution. I’m not doing this out of ignorance. We need this law at this stage of our development.

“The bill on its own did not create any outrage. The bill is suffering from hate speech already because people have misinterpreted it. Simply because you read ‘death by hanging’ without reading the context, you have started making comments. Is it possible to just hang a human being?”

Musa also vowed to go ahead with his own Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, which seeks to regulate the messages being posted on the Internet, notwithstanding the stiff opposition against it.

The senator told our correspondent that his bill was desirable, unlike the hate speech bill which already has existing legislation that could tackle it.

Musa said, “My bill is different from the hate speech bill. As far as I know, we have legislation that can tackle hate speech. My bill can also tackle hate speech because if you know that you are going to say something that is not true, you will think of the consequences.

“There is a difference between my bill and the hate speech bill. I may come out to say something that is against your tradition; it is left for you to prove that the statement has made people look down on you at the court of law.

“The aim and objective of my bill are to prevent the transmission of false statements, or a declaration of facts, knowing full well that those facts are not true in Nigeria.

“It would enable measures to be taken to counter the efforts of such transmissions and also to suppress the financing, promotion and support of online locations that repeatedly transmit false statements.”

The senator insisted his bill was not to suppress opposition voices in the country.

He said, “If more advanced and complex countries than Nigeria could regulate their social media usage and make their online space more credible, what stops us from doing the same?

“Some people, simply because they want to have many clicks on their sites in order to have some advantage over others, would take the picture of the President and that of a female minister and say they are getting married.

“The implication of all these is that they affect the credibility of the country and that is what we want to safeguard. We are not doing this to gag the press at all.

“We want the press to be our partners. We want the press to see our shortcomings and expose them because they are facts. I don’t want the press to see this bill as if it is being targeted at them.”

Asked how he would feel if his bill was rejected by the stakeholders and also on the floor of the Senate just like what happened to a similar one introduced in the 8th Senate, Musa said he was ready to welcome any opposition.

“I don’t expect the process of the bill passage to go smoothly. I expect to have opposition, people who would say they don’t want it,” he said.

We have enough laws to address hate speech, others –Opposition senators

Opposition lawmakers in the upper chamber led by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, have, however, assured the media, civil society group and the general public that the two bills will not become laws if the intention was to further infringe on the rights of Nigerians.

Abaribe, in company with the Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha, and the Deputy Minority Whip, Sahabi Yau, stated this while addressing a coalition of civil society groups who were in the red chamber on Wednesday evening to protest the introduction of the bills.

He also repeated his position when he featured on Sunrise Daily, a programme aired by Channels Television on Thursday morning.

He said, “There will be a public hearing and everybody will be invited. We cannot make any comment about what is still at the stage of the first reading. But what I can assure you is that this Senate cannot be a party to removing the rights of Nigerians from whatever is enshrined in the constitution.

“The constitution says under Section 39 that we have rights, including freedom of speech. Freedom to hold and espouse ideas. I can assure you that the 9th Senate will not breach your rights.

“I do not think that Nigerians who fought to bring us to the point where we are and bring us to democratic government will willingly give it away and make us go back to the dark days of suppression.

“We expect that social media users in Nigeria must be also responsible enough not to propagate information designed to tarnish other peoples image.

“The sponsors of the two bills will explain what they really want to achieve with them when we get to the second reading process. At the moment, what we have is the first reading which is automatic.

“The second process would now be that the bill will have to be gazetted. That is when we can now see every aspect of the bill. It is at that point that it will go for a second reading and we will discuss the general principles.

“At the moment, I do not know what is in those bills, save for the speculations that we are seeing.

“Chapter 4 of the constitution, starting from Section 34 to 39, gives the different rights that a Nigerian has. Section 39 talks about freedom to hold opinion, disseminate and receive information.

“Democracy implies freedom. If you are a democrat, you should allow others to hold their views. Where you regiment everybody to one single line of thought, is not a democracy, it is an authoritarian rule.

“We cannot pass through the years of military rule and 20 years of democracy and somebody will come and circumvent our rights at this stage.

“If the hate speech bill which advocates death by hanging was in place between 2012 and 2015 when Lai Mohammed was making certain statements against the Goodluck Jonathan administration, he would probably not be alive today.

“We have more than enough laws to take care of issues of hate speech, defamation of character or slander. There is the criminal code that identifies such offences and the punishment, there is the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria Act, the Cybercrime Act and other legislation that are already in place. Why should we bring a much more draconian act?”

Social media bill threatens human rights – Shehu Sani

Meanwhile, the Senator who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly, Shehu Sani, said the social media bill was a threat to the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

Sani, who is now the Executive Director, African Centre for Peace and Development, stated this in a statement.

He wondered why the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which got to power in 2015 largely due to social media support was now trying to gag their activities.

He said, “The bill on the regulation of social media poses a serious threat and danger to freedom of speech and expression. The quest to regulate social media is a grand plan to silence critics and dissenting voices.

“Combating hate speech is a smokescreen to annihilating free speech. Any law aimed at limiting the rights and freedom of citizens to express their views is aimed at building a tower of tyranny.

“It is ironic that a government that came to power on the promise of protecting the fundamental rights of Nigerians is now reneging and sliding towards totalitarianism. Silencing dissents endangers democracy.”

Sani said Buhari, “who was once a victim of abuse of power”, must be conscious of his place in history and legacies on human rights and the rule of law.

He said, “Disobedience to court orders demonises a country and criminalises a government.

“Nigeria’s democracy is threatened by the authoritarian tendencies of the people in power.”

Sani also demanded the immediate release of the publisher of SaharaReporters Omoyele Sowore and all those still being held in detention despite valid court orders.

He said, “There’s a cloud of fear over our country and the moral flag of our democracy is lowered to half staff.

“There is the urgency to defend our freedom and democracy against those standing against it.”

We won’t work against Nigerians’ rights –Senate

Acting Senate spokesperson, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, has assured Nigerians that the upper chamber will not pass any legislation that infringes on their rights. He said this while reacting to the two bills on social media and hate speech which are currently generating controversies.

He said there was a process of enacting a law or an act in the National Assembly or in the state Assembly.

He said, “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 then 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 lead to crisis, it will be killed on the floor of the Senate when it comes for second reading.

“I want to urge Nigerians to have patience because it is neither wise 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.”

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