Senate disowns sponsorship of hate speech bill

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The Nigerian Senate on Monday, November 18, 2019, disowned the proposed legislation of the controversial hate speech bill which passed first reading last week.

The acting spokesperson for the red chamber,  Senator Godiya Akwashiki, told journalists in Abuja that contrary to widespread impression, the bill was not the idea of the 9th Senate. He said it was solely being sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, based on his conviction.

Akwashiki described as unfortunate the statement credited to the Peoples Democratic Party, which insinuated that the bill was a Senate bill, either to islamise Nigeria or skewed to make the alleged third term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari, a reality

He maintained that the fate of the bill would be determined on the floor of the Senate after a robust debate by senators.

Akwashiki said, “There is a statement credited to the spokesperson for the Peoples Democratic Party saying that the hate speech bill before us is a collaboration between the Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari to islamise the country or make things happen the way he (Buhari) wants it.

“It (the statement) also claims that he (Buhari) is  trying to bring the hate speech to enable him to achieve a third term. I’m happy that the sponsor of the bill is here. He has cleared the air.

“It is the right of a senator to sponsor a private member bill. We also have the executive bill but the hate speech bill before the Senate today is a private senator bill.  Mr President has nothing to do with it and it also has nothing to do with third term agenda.

“It is not also aimed at islamise Nigeria. When the bill gets to second reading, senators would have the opportunity to speak. They would scrutinise it and remove whatever they perceive offensive and insert those that are meant to protect the interest of Nigerians.

“I want to make it clear once again that the hate speech bill before the Senate is a private senator bill, not an executive bill.”

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Meanwhile, the ex-spokesperson for the Senate who sponsored the bill, Senator Sabi Abdullahi insisted at a news briefing on Monday that his proposed legislation was aimed at achieving peace in the country and vowed to push on with it.

Abdullahi further denied being used by the executive arm of government to actualise or pave the way for the third term agenda of the President.

He said, “The assumption by some people who think the bill is a ploy to give the current president  a third term is laughable and it is a shame on those holding such views because I don’t see how that is related.

“If anything, I have seen studies conducted where the issues of violence were catalogued, particularly electoral violence and hate speech featured prominently as a major cause.

“This clearly shows that if we allow hate speech to fester, it means we won’t get good governance and it would also be difficult to fight corruption.”

He claimed that Nigeria was not the only country affected by the issue of hate speech, adding that there were more than 20 countries that have various laws directly targeting at hate speech.

“Giving the context and happenings within the country,  it is time to check this monster that is known as hate speech,” he stated.

On the issue of death by hanging,  Abdullahi said it was the judge  that would determine the punishment.

He said, “As far as the issue of death by hanging is concerned, which the constitution in section 33 spelt out,  it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“We are going to provide additional definition after the debate. Hate speech is when you deliberately incite somebody on the basis of making a statement targeting at getting violent reactions from certain religious or ethnic groups.

“Hate speech must be hateful which means something that is deep, spoken deliberately to make another person angry, or to debase the person or dehumanise him or her.

“I have listened to criticisms and condemnation of the bill; in all what they have said, one beautiful thing that came to my mind is the fact that we are all united against hate.

“We are all against all forms of discriminations and that everybody is concerned with the subject of death, nobody wants to see death being unleashed on anybody.

“I think that is very fundamental. I am happy we are having this conversation as a nation.

Abdullahi also disclosed that he has been receiving threats over the bill.

“Over the past 10 days since the bill was read, I have received all kinds of messages, including threats, but I am not bothered about that…In all of this, if I receive one commendation, it gladdens my heart and I did receive many commendations.”

Yetunde Adegoke

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