The sponsor of the Anti – Hate Speech Bill, which has been generating controversy in the polity since its passage for first reading in the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), recently fielded questions from journalists on the bill. TAIYE ODEWALE was there.
What is your take on the controversies the Anti – Hate Speech bill, which you sponsored has been generating?
Yes, the Anti- Hate Speech bill was sponsored by me in the 8th Senate and passed through the first reading as the current one did in the 9th Senate on November 12, 2019.
That of the 8th Senate lapsed with the life span of the Senate because of refusal from me, as sponsor, to push it for further legislative stages after the first reading stage due to political exigencies of the time.
In a nutshell, the time the bill supposed to be activated for second reading, political atmosphere had changed, not only in the Senate but the entire country and as the sponsor, I felt there was no need pushing it further by way of ensuring that it was listed for second reading for me to make a lead debate on it and other Senators make their contributions .
Be that as it may, on my first attempt on the bill, the unabated reasons for the idea as far as hate speeches are concerned , made me to sponsor the bill again in this 9th Senate .
But unfortunately the day it was listed on the order paper and accorded first reading along with other ones listed on the order paper of November 12, 2019, I was indisposed and not at the chamber upon which different narratives are being formed by those against the bill.
While some are saying I deliberately did not make myself available on that day as a way of avoiding any backlash that may follow, others are even imputing executive collaboration in the bill, allegedly for achieving third term agenda for the President; which to me, is very laughable.
If there is any collaboration on this bill , the collaboration is from a learned friend of 24 years, Barrister S.E Peters, a detribalised Nigerian from Rivers state who also strongly felt that appropriate laws supposed to be put in place in the country against peddlers of falsehoods in the country on ethnicity and religion through hate speech against perceived enemies.
Both of us, while putting heads together on the bill, felt that without addressing the issues of hate speech in the land through required laws , ethno-religious crises often instigated by it will continue with attendant loss of innocent lives.
The very reason the bill as envisioned, makes provision for a Commission against Hate Speech , the platform upon which the war against it will be waged and laws against it will be applied.
But most of the commentators against the bill anchored their arguments on the fact that the country already has extant laws against hate speech like slander, defamation of character, spreading of falsehoods, and incitement. How would you react to this?
Yes, there are extant laws against incitement, slander, falsehoods, defamation of character etc , but none of those laws directly tackles the issues of hate speech as envisioned in the bill.
While all those other criminal vices are perpetrated by criminally minded people without exploiting the fault lines of religion and ethnicity, those who uses hate speech to cause mayhem in the land , do so by exploiting those two fault lines and invariably undermining the unity of the country.
Hate Speech was not an issue in Nigeria 30, 40 , 50 years ago but going by available records and statistics , within the last 10 to 15 years, it has become a very worrisome and recurring one for that matter requiring very urgent attention from government, the basis upon which I took it upon myself as a federal lawmaker, to come up with a legislative proposal to that effect.
It is not something that is so peculiar to Nigeria , in Africa, Kenya has a legislation to that effect, Canada has it, Japan has it and infact, not less than 20 countries of the world today have one law or the other against hate speech . If peace must reign in our society and the world at large hate speech must be decisively tackled.
The scope and dimensions vary from one country to the other. While in Nigeria, the platform for driving hate speeches are our two fault lines of religion and ethnicity, in America, it is through the racial platform.
I have re-introduced the bill, it has gone through first reading and I am more than ready to lead debate on it on the floor of the Senate for second reading regardless of commentaries against or for, being run on it by some public analysts and social commentators many of whom in their various submissions , admitted that they have not seen let alone , read the content of the draft bill.
What is swaying public opinion against the bill is the death by hanging provision it has for offenders of hate speech if passed into law. What is your take on this?
That provision like the bill itself, is a legislative proposal which is subject to approval or review by the Senate when it gets to that critical stage of legislation.
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, against all forms of discriminations and that everybody is concerned with the subject of death, nobody wants to see death being unleashed on anybody.
And I think that is very fundamental. I am happy we are having this conversation as a nation. Like somebody wrote to me, that over the past days since the bill was read, I have received all kinds of messages, including abuses but I am not bothered about that. In all of these, if I receive one commendation, it gladdens my heart and I did receive many commendations but one stood out where the commentators said there is so much hate in this country and we must check it.
So, all isn’t lost. I am happy we are having this conversation and let us have it as responsible citizens. Whatever anybody will say, if you have never been a victim, or your loved one has never been a victim, then you have the luxury of making statements anyhow as far as this subject matter is concerned.
But I bet you, if you meet those who have lost their loved ones, arising from violence due to ethnicity, or religious intolerance, I don’t think they will be smiling with you when you tell them hate speech is nonsense, or when you tell them hate speech doesn’t exists.
They definitely know what hate speech is because they felt hate speech, they have seen it and they are living as victims of hate speech. So, for me, I believe laws are made to check those of us who will chose to go to the extreme, outside the area that we are supposed to operate, so that it serves as a deterrence.
When laws are put in place, and no offences are committed, the law becomes redundant.
But one thing I know in this country is this: those few instances where we had issues, the same Nigerians have gone out to make commentaries: what are our leaders doing? What is the National Assembly doing? People are being killed for nothing and they are saying nothing!
The only instrument we have is the instrument of legislation. I have taken the opportunity to look at this critical issue and people are demonizing me.
In a nutshell, the Anti- Hate Speech bill or law, when considered and approved, seeks Justice for
ALUU 4, others. It seeks to protect the lives of Nigerians against undue manipulations by mischievous elements in the society and ensure justice for those who were wrongfully accused and killed like Tekena, Lloyd, Ugonna and Chidiaka in 2014 at the University of Port- Harcourt.