Senators are enraged. Honourables are furious. For real, they don’t know what hate speech is, but they actually know what its Bill will wreak when it revolves in a reality.
It’s right that hate speech is brimstone and fire that decoy social media daily, fire with potentialities of razing, and speeches with power to spark violence and result to violent societies.
There are offensive speeches, and not all offensive speeches can be seen as hate speech. But Lawmakers’ misuse of the term has not been left without possible consequences such that put the future of Nigerian journalism at stake.
This is because the dividing line between hate speech and free speech is very narrow.
Section 39(1) of the 1999 Nigeria’s constitution provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information without interference.”
Given that section, an unwholesome repression on hate speech may lead to a punitive measure against all forms of offensive speech that can lead to the derogation of right to freedom of information and speech.
It is of interest to know that the functions of journalism centred on public affairs and monitoring the actions of government at all levels. Journalists had in their daily work exercise their right of free speech, by implication a threat to free speech is a threat to journalism.
As a consequence of this, government may mean it to be critiscm against itself or other political officials. This can then use this to shut out public critiscm.
Here is a succinct reference. Last week, Premium times center for Investigative Journalism published an info- graphic about five Senators who strongly supported the proposed hate speech bill and the reason they did.
Realistically most of these Senators have in the past been victims of internet outrage. Queing on this line is the like of Senator Ibrahim Gobir who was critically criticised when he opposed the gender equality Bill introduced in the Eighth Senate. The viral plight of Senator Elisha Abbo few months ago when a video showing him slapping a woman in an Abuja sex shop surfaced online, could also be seen as the sole reason why he supported the bill.
The point is, our law itself did not define hate speech, although law is not static – it is dynamic, so to meet social needs. But the situation here reveals government’s ignorance of existing laws.
Standing by the different existing laws, hate speech Bill is unnecessary, these laws are adequately taking care of what hate speech intends to achieve.
For instance, conspiracy – an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future, in certain circumstances, it is semblance to hate speech and is governed by Sections 516 and 96 of the Criminal Code and Penal Code.
Implementation of these sections means that anybody committing the offence of conspiracy would be risking fifteen years imprisonment.
The fact is, our country needs not any bill on hate speech. Lawmakers should define clearly what hate speech is in conformity with the Nigerian law, and then revisit previous related enacted laws to accommodate such definition. Until this, hate speech bill may still be regarded as a tool to stake the future of journalism in Nigeria.
Written by Abdulwasiu Mujeeb.
Abdulwasiu Mujeeb is a Law Student of the Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto who is currently on internship with the Media Career Development Network, Lagos.