Hate speech bill, VAT and NGF’s position




Buhari with newly inaugurated governors

Since the introduction of the Hate Speech Bill, opposition has mounted against the bill from sundry quarters notwithstanding that the federal government is strongly in favour of the bill and has made efforts to convince the people to accept it.  Abdulrahman Zakariyau writes.

The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in its meeting Monday made its position known on the controversial Hate Speech Bill, VAT increase and the minimum wage issue.

Intent of the bill

The Deputy Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said the Anti-hate Speech Bill presently before the National Assembly seeks to ensure justice for Nigerians who are victims of hate speech contrary to widespread speculations.

In a statement he issued in Abuja on Monday, the lawmaker explained that the bill would ensure justice for Nigerians who were wrongfully accused and killed. Abdullahi disclosed that the lawmakers were already working in agreement to see that adjustments are made to the death penalty and other punitive terms contained in the bill.

According to him, the bill if passed into law without a death penalty would ensure justice for the victims and their families by ensuring that the perpetrators face the weight of the law accordingly. He added that the proposed bill seeks to protect the lives of Nigerians against undue manipulations by mischievous elements in society.

The lawmaker debunked insinuations that the bill was targeted at giving President Muhammadu Buhari Administration a third term in office, describing the insinuation as a smear campaign by political merchants who do not wish Nigeria well. Abdullahi also bemoaned the increasing rate of suicides and depression among Nigerian youths, attributing the development to societal values which breed intense hate.

He, however, stated that the death penalty for anyone found culpable of using hate speech that leads to the death of another, is an aspect that will be subject to an amendment when the bill is eventually considered and goes through a public hearing.

“The death penalty is not definite like some Nigerians are making it seem. In the National Assembly, bills go through legislative processes. The concerns on the death penalty are genuine and will be amended accordingly. During these processes, amendments are made to fine-tune the bill in meeting with existing realities.

“Therefore, the hate speech bill will go through these processes to ensure Nigerians get the best out of the proposed bill,” Senator Abdullahi said. “If passed, the bill will ensure justice for Nigerians who are silent victims of hate speech. As we speak, statistics show that so many Nigerians are depressed and suicidal.

This is as a result of the way our society is presently wired. “We live in a hate-filled society in Nigeria and need an existing law to address this. In Kenya, they found the need to address the associated Ills of hate speech and they are now better for it with the introduction of laws in that direction.

“In 2014, if you recall, four university of Port Harcourt students were unjustly murdered in cold blood as a result of hate speech. So many others have died as a result of wrong accusations. It is time to put a stop to these gruesome killings through hate speech,” Abdullahi said.

Governors’ Forum opposes

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has strongly opposed the bill and in fact has advised the National Assembly to hold public hearing on the hate speech bill to ensure the views of Nigerians were captured in the passage of the bill.

The NGF Vice Chairman and Governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Tambuwal, gave the advice while fielding questions from newsmen at the end of the forum meeting held on Wednesday night in Abuja.

He advised the federal lawmakers to respect the views of Nigerians on the bill. 

“I am not sure I have heard any governor come out to say he is in support of death penalty for hate speech.

“I believe the National Assembly should hold a public hearing on that bill, so that due process of lawmaking is followed, so that the views of Nigerians not just the governors will be well captured on that bill.

“They should respect the views of Nigerians in whatever may be the direction of debate and the eventual passage or otherwise of that bill,” Tambuwal said.

Asked of the governors’ position on the Finance Bill submitted to the NASS by President Muhammadu Buhari  to increase Value Added Tax (VAT) from five to 7.5 per cent, Tambuwal appealed to Nigerians to show more understanding with the  federal government.

He said that the governors were in support of what would improve the revenue generation drive of both the federal and state governments.

“We are appealing to those who probably have no proper understanding of the contexts of those bills to kindly have a rethink of them and reflect on quantum of work ahead of us.

” As a country and states, we need a lot of resources to turn around infrastructure, to invest in education, healthcare and every sector of our national life.

“There is urgent need of more revenue in Nigeria. So, I appeal that we should show more understanding with the  Federal Government in that regard,” he said.

On the December deadline for the implementation of minimum wage issued by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to state governors, Tambuwal said the various states were engaging labour unions on the issue.

“I am sure it is work in progress. Before December all the states must have finished working out the details on the issue of minimum wage across the federation.

“We are very much committed to the welfare and wellbeing of our workforce and therefore we shall continue to ensure we do our best on what needs to be done.”

Other bills and wage headache

Tambuwal said the forum received update on the outcome of its meeting in the US with Aliko Dangote Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Human Capital Development with focus on Primary Health Care (PHC).

He said that at the meeting, the governors and the two Foundations expressed commitment to the Seattle Declaration aimed at promoting collaboration to transform PHC at the sub-national level in Nigeria

This, according to him, includes full implementation of PHC Under One Roof and meeting the requirements of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund.

“To improve efficiency gains across governments and economic activities at the household level, the NGF committed to initiatives to advance value added activities in agriculture, access to finance and women economic empowerment.”

Tambuwal disclosed that the governors also received update on the World Bank State Fiscal Transparency

Accountability and Sustainability  (SFTAS) programme and discussed modalities to ensure its smooth and accelerated implementation.

“Following a presentation from the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation on the SFTAS Annual Performance Appraisal (APA) mission to States, members committed to working with the Independent Verification Agent (IVA) to ensure that the APA process does not experience delays.

“The forum also held a preliminary consultative session with the World Bank Country Director, Shubham Chaudhuri and his team on the new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for Nigeria for the period of 2020 to 2024.

“This also includes a planned Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment Programme.

“Governors promised to hold a dedicated session to reach a consensus on what matters most for States and a common agenda to improve the wellbeing of all Nigerians.”

Tambuwal said that in commemorating the anniversary of the Rights of Children, Peter Hawkins, the Country Representative of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) made a presentation to the forum where education of Nigeria’s children was unequivocally emphasized.

Asked if the forum was looking at ensuring each member state domesticate the Child Right Act, Tambuwal said many states had alread passed the law.

“I believe some of the states that have challenges that have to do with religion, culture or others are dealing with them at local level and addressing them. The peculiarity depends on the situation of individual state.”

The seventh meeting was attended by governors of Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Adamawa, and Kwara. Other states such as Gombe, Enugu, Edo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Oyo and Ebonyi were represented by their deputy governors.

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