Two bills in the Senate at different stages of considerations, sponsored by Senators Sani Musa (APC Niger East) and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), are generating serious controversies in the polity as regards their intendments and provisions, generally. Taiye Odewale reports.
Hated hate speech bill
The first of the two bills is the one titled: “Protection from Internet falsehood and manipulations bill 2019’, which scaled second reading in the Senate last week while the other one is the Anti – Hate Speech bill which passed first reading also on the floor of the Senate, penultimate Tuesday, November 12, 2019.
Coincidentally, the two bills separately sponsored by Senators from Niger state, were introduced on the floor of the Senate almost at the same time.
While the first one popularly known as anti – social media bill, sponsored by Senator Sani Musa, was listed on the Order Paper of the Senate on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 and read for the first time, the second controversial bill titled: “National Commission For the Prohibition of Hate Speeches”, sponsored by the Deputy Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi , was listed on the Order Paper of the Senate on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 and read for the first time .
As a result of Death Penalty provision in the anti – Hate Speech bill, it attracted spontaneous reactions from Nigerians with strident condemnations which forced the sponsor, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, to address the press last week Monday for clarifications on its provisions and intendment.
Why the dead penalty
Sabi Abdullahi at the press briefing said: “The intendment of the bill is to provide a platform for dealing with those exploiting the two fault lines in the country, i.e, religion and ethnicity, to cause crises which often lead to loss of innocent lives.
“Available records clearly show that largest percentage of ethno- religious crises in the country within the last 15 to 20 years, were caused by hate speech with attendant loss of hundreds of innocent lives.
“This, to me as a federal lawmaker, should not be allowed to continue and the best way of doing this is to come up with appropriate law to arrest the ugly trend which the Anti- Hate Speech Bill is proposed to address”.
He explained further that contrary to insinuations flying around that the bill was sponsored in collaboration with the executive for execution of a hidden agenda, that the executive has no input in it at all.
“I have read write ups of those antagonising this bill and listen to those colouring it with hidden agenda from the executive in form of third term agenda. All these to me, are even hate speech or speeches, on its own.
“The bill is not peculiar to Nigeria as countries like Canada, Kenya, Japan etc, already have laws against hate speech”, he said.
The bill defines hate speech as comments that insult people for their religion, ethnic, linguistic affiliation, and racial contempt among others.
Speak wrong get life jail
The bill among others, stipulates thus: “Anyone 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.
For offences like harassment on the basis of ethnicity, racial contempt, the bill proposes not less than five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.
However barely a week after, precisely two days ago, Sunday, November 24, 2019, due to continued barrage of attacks against the bill, from Nigerians including the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption ( PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, issued a statement renouncing the death penalty provision in the bill.
Abdullahi in the press statement said: “We have followed closely arguments for and against the hate speech bill, and seen the reason why some kicked against it.
“Given the high respect which we have for Nigerians, we will make amendment to the death penalty aspect that most Nigerians objected to, so that a bill that meets their expectations is passed into law.
“Clearly from the conversations, Nigerians agree that we have a problem in the society today as a result of hate speech which has fuelled so many killings and violence, and is responsible for cases of depression and suicides.”
At about the same time Senator Abdullahi was reacting to barrage of attacks trailing his bill, his counterpart from Niger East Senatorial District, Senator Sani Musa, also reacted to allegation of plagiarism levelled against him by a Non Governmental Organisation on Saturday (NGO).
The NGO known as Global Coalition for Security Democracy, had through a video broadcast made by its Executive Director, Frederick Odorige, alleged that Senator Musa plagiarised the Singaporean version of the Anti- Social Media bill.
Odorige in the allegation stated that the title of the bill was copied from the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 of the Republic of Singapore.
He said the Act was passed by the Singaporean Parliament on May 8, 2019 and assented to by their President, Halimah Yacob, on June 3, 2019. He alleged further that in the title of the bill, Senator Musa ingeniously substituted the word ‘online’ as used by the Parliament of Singapore for ‘Internet’.
He added that the other parts of the title and most of the other contents of the bill were exactly the same with that of the Singaporeans.
But in his reaction to the allegation through his Twitter Handle, Senator Musa said similarity between the bill and that of Singapore, has nothing to do with plagiarism.
He said: “The similarity between our draft Bill to make provisions for protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and for other related matters with the Singaporean Statute on the same subject.
“It is posteriors that this is said to be an instance of plagiarism. All over the world, Legislation in other Jurisdictions do influence the form and substances in other jurisdictions, particularly and Present the same or similar challenges of regulation.
“Examples of these are bound in Company Law Reforms, Trade Mark Legislations and Securities Regulations across the globe. The problems and challenges of regulating internet activities cuts across jurisdictions.
“It is therefore inevitable that lessons be drawn from other jurisdictions in fashioning out solutions in our own Country.
“Legislations across the globe are public documents and National Legislations do not claim right over them as to form the basis for plagiarism over them, their effectiveness being limited to the territorial jurisdiction of each sovereignty”.
However, time will definitely tell, whether the controversies trailing the bills at different stages of consideration in the Senate, will eventually consumed them in the legislative process or not.