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Civil Society Groups Cries Out!!! Its Draconian

– Civil society groups have lent their voices against a bill at the Senate which recommends death sentence for any person found guilty of hate speech

– According to the groups, capital punishment was becoming unpopular all over the world

– It noted that there were provisions in the law to duly prosecute perpetrators of hate speech rather than a death sentence

A bill at the Senate that recommends death sentence for any person found guilty of hate speech has been condemned by civil society groups.

The bill has been described as draconian by the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), the Center for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), The president of the CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, said: “I think there have been very desperate and sinister moves on the part of the Senate, hiding under the cloak of a nebulous term such as hate speech, to whittle down and undermine the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

The first challenge about that bill is to know who defines hate speech. Is it the senators or the people? “You will certainly harvest abuses if we go by the Senate’s definition of hate speech. Every Nigerian, including those who are alleged to have indulged in hate speech, enjoys a constitutional right to freedom of expression.

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It will only take a court to take away those rights in specific circumstances. Anything short of that will amount to a breach of that right. “Also, there are still bodies of legislation on defamation, slander and libel which carry their own punishments and penalties, but not the death penalty. They, more often than not, attract payment of damages. The Senate must not tamper with this arrangement.

We recommend that the bill on capital punishment be abolished.”
Also speaking, the director of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, said, most of the laws being put forward by the Senate are self-serving. According to him, Nigerian senators are the worst culprits when it comes to hate speech. “Hate speech must not attract the death penalty because we cannot be sure of the prosecution leading to it

The bill is unwarranted and self-serving,” he said. On its part, the national coordinator of HURIWA said the bill was designed to criminalize “independent voices that are critical and vocal about the gross misgovernance that has become the hallmark of the current federal government and most state governments.” He warned the National Assembly against using subterranean tactics of sponsoring tyrannical legislation that could strengthen the dictatorial tendencies of the present government. The group added that the National Assembly was working together with enemies of democracy who were bent on destroying civil rule. “HURIWA is of the position that the draconian bill before the national legislature purportedly meant to check hate speech is aimed at destroying freedom of speech and media rights.

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It is one of the latest weapons being used by haters of free speech to demonise and attack perceived political opponents,” he said. The bill, sponsored by Senate spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi (APC-Niger), recommends the death penalty for any hate speech that result in the death of a person. The bill passed the first reading at the Senate on Wednesday. In defence of the bill, he said he sponsored it to correct the failures of existing laws. According to him, the existing laws on defamation and public conduct had failed to check hate speech among Nigerians. Meanwhile, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, said the bill should not be totally discarded because hate speech had led to very grievous consequences in the country. the federal government warned that it would prosecute those who indulge in the practice of hate speech in accordance with the 2011 terrorism act.

The minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, who gave the warning on Monday, February 19, at the second national conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Kano, noted that offenders of dangerous comments would henceforth be prosecuted by the federal government. Mohammed who described the media as a moulder of the public view, noted the federal government has continued to promote ethical standard and the core responsibility of the journalism profession. Street gist: Should the Nigerian senate be scrapped?

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