The adventure of the Nigerian Senate to impose death penalty on Hate Speech has suffered a solidarity casualty from the leading anti-Hate Speech campaigner in Nigeria – the Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD). CITAD is, instead, saying that as an organization that has been working around hate and dangerous speech for the last five years, it is deeply worried that the Senate’s proposed action on hate speech is unbecoming and may undermine freedom of speech and expression since there is no nationally “agreed” and “endorsed” definition of the term “hate speech” in Nigeria.
The NGO is, therefore, strongly urging the Nigerian Senate to drop the motion and face more critical problems affecting Nigerians, saying that issues of kidnapping, armed robbery, youth unemployment, collapse of industries, factories and companies, power outage, etc should have been the pressing concerns of the Senate attends to since they have touching effects on the citizenry.
The statement coming from CITAD may act as a cure for the jolt many critical minds suffered when the news hit the headlines that the Senate planned a death penalty on a nebulous concept such as hate speech. A commentator wondered aloud if the Senate has any intellectuals that problematise the concepts they work on at all. If the senior legislative chamber take concepts on their face value, then the nation is finished, said another civil society activist.
It would thus interest diverse observers that a statement by Mallam Hamza Ibrahim who coordinates CITAD’s anti-hate speech program maintains that its five years experience of monitoring, analyzing and sensitizing Nigerians on hate speech has led it to discover three fundamental issues to standout. He listed the three issues to be lack of tolerance among Nigerians; tribal sentiments and lack of patriotism and unity. Citing these as the obvious triggers of hate speech, it is pointing at them as the domains requiring intervention of the Senate rather than prescribing death penalty for potential offenders.
Without in any way underrating the consequences of hate speech by categorizing certain issues as more urgent, CITAD says it is opposed to the planned death penalty law “as it may amount to arrest and incarceration of voices deemed to be critics on the basis of uttering hate speech and this will be dangerous for democracy”
The statement titled “We Again Say No to Death Penalty on Hate Speech” recalls its October 2018 meeting of scholars, researchers, human rights activists, the media, civil society, agencies, women groups, clerics, etc in the nation’s capital Abuja to deliberate and workout modalities for coming up with a nationally agreed definition of the term “hate speech”. The stakeholders meeting organised with financial support by MacArthur Foundation succeeded in coming up with a draft that was designed to be widely circulated, critiqued, observed and eventually vetted. That, said CITAD, should have been the first step in any democratic move and is urging the Senate to be more interested in that than vaguely bombarding the nation with a heinous reaction on the matter. It expresses its concern that the law may be abused or manipulated to work in the way certain powers want, thereby worsening the situation rather than address it.
“As we speak, some journalists and commentators are in detention and others missing on the basis of their commentary in a country that is practicing democracy with two legislative chambers”, CITAD stated, wondering how such a situation prevailing even before the planned death penalty for those tagged to have been involved in making hate speech would be otherwise. “If this is the situation currently, then, proposing death penalty for hate speech in Nigeria should worry every concerned Nigerian”, argues CITAD, adding that freedom of expression and speech are fundamental deliverables of democracy which are being challenged by recent happenings in Nigeria, from attempt to regulate social media to proposing death penalty on hate speech.
It is also recalling how Senator Bala Ibn Na’alla from Kebbi State brought a motion aiming to regulate social media but after an incident involving a constituent of his which exposed the Senator to public condemnation in 2016. The Senator’s motion failed following a public outcry.
Another similar move in 2018 proposing death penalty for hate speech also failed like the previous attempt. “Here we are again, witnessing another move by the upper legislative arm prescribing death penalty for what is yet to be fully, justifiably and sensitively defined. The term hate speech is yet to also have a nationally and unanimously agreed definition taking into cognizance the peculiarities and the Nigerian context, the statement concluded.
Reminding the Senate that democracy in Nigeria needs nurturing and gardening, CITAD advises it to drop the proposed bill and devise other means of amicably addressing the issue through a multifaceted approach involving institutions, organizations, agencies, etc.