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Atiku, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Others React To ‘Draconian’ Hate Speech Bill

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Atiku

The Senate has reintroduced a bill it abandoned under pressure last year through which it sought to impose the death penalty on “any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.”

The upper legislative chamber was last year forced to drop its first attempt to enact the law, following massive public outcry that ensued after The Guardian, in March 2018, exclusively reported that the lawmakers were desperate to pass the bill.

Tagged “National Commission For the Prohibition of Hate Speeches”, the bill is sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Abdullahi Aliu Sabi (APC, Niger State).

It was the 12th item on the Order Paper yesterday and was granted automatic first reading on the floor of the Senate.

The death penalty is the most severe punishment provided by the bill which defines hate speech as a comment that insults people for their religion, ethnic and linguistic affiliation, among others.

It stipulates: “Any person 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.”

On 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.

“A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and /or directs the performance of, any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such a person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”

According to the bill, “Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of this Section if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.

“A person who subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to an imprisonment fora term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than ten million naira, or to both.”

The bill, according to its sponsor, is aimed at ensuring the elimination of all forms of hate speeches; promoting the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic groups; as well as advising the Federal Government on the matter.

Other situations which the bill condemns are when “a person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this Section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating that other person’s dignity; or creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.”

The commission will be headed by an executive chairperson to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Council of State, subject to the confirmation of at least two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

Other functions of the commission include discouraging persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encouraging full participation by all ethnic communities in social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities.

It is also to plan, supervise, coordinate and promote educational and training programmes to create public awareness, support, and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups.

But the planned law is already eliciting criticism from some quarters.

Former vice president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23, election, Atiku Abubakar, cautioned the Senate against promulgating the anti-hate speech bill into law.

In a statement by his media Adviser, Paul Ibe, yesterday evening, Atiku noted that those now toying with the idea of an anti-hate speech bill, with punishment by death should exercise much caution.

“The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech.

“Those behind the bill should wake up to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests” he advised.”

Chieftains of two socio-cultural groups particularly kicked against the plan to establish an agency for hate speech.

They urged Nigerians to resist every attempt by the Senate to aid the enclosure of the open space and turn Nigeria to a full-blown dictatorship.

Specifically, Yinka Odumakin, spokesman of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, said the Senate was aiding and abetting full-grown dictatorship in the country by wanting to take away the right of speech.

“The Senate is now behaving truly like a rubber stamp assembly. Of all the problems confronting Nigeria today, all they can be doing is to be thinking of establishing an agency for hate speech and the death penalty for offenders.

“What constitutes hate speech? It is a subjective interpretation according to the whims and caprices of those in power, so all they are trying to do with this bill is to cow people to submission and propose for execution those who disagree with the way the country is being run.

“The way our Senate is doing is making many of us who fought for democracy to ask: what did we fight against in the military rule that we are not witnessing in Nigeria today, especially with this kind of bill by the senate? Nigerians should resist this attempt to turn the country to a full-blown dictatorship.”

A Second Republic politician and chieftain of the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze, Chief Guy Ikokwu, told The Guardian in a telephone interview that the law of libel and defamation was enough to handle hate speeches.

“They should define what hate speech means and judge themselves if they have never hated anyone in their lives and if they were found guilty. They should be the first to judge themselves.

“Our law of libel and defamation of character is very clear, so why would they want to fund an agency and even go ahead executing people.

“The law is enough under the dispensation of the rule of law and liberal development. Our laws guarantee freedom of expression, the Senate cannot make any law outside the constitution. We are not under a military regime, we are in a federal republic. If they want anarchy instead of liberal democracy, they should pass the bill and let everyone know where the country stands. This is getting too much, we cannot continue like this.”

A senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said: “A bill sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi, who incidentally was the spokesman for the Senate in the 8th National Assembly, is said to have passed the first reading. Part of the bizarre provisions in the said bill is the prescription of death penalty for makers of hate speech. What is hate speech by the way and who defines it? What is the true test of determining it? Is the test that of a government in power or that of the traumatised people or that of the National Assembly or the courts or the executive? Just who?

“I have not yet had the opportunity to read the bill and so do not yet have the details of this unusual bill seeking the death penalty (by hanging) on alleged hate speech. I pray this provision is not true. I pray it is a mere moonlight tale.

“This bill should be deleted immediately. It should immediately be aborted and killed as a malformed embryo at its second reading gestation stage before it is allowed to be delivered as a societal monster. I quickly warn that this maverick and intolerant government cannot be trusted by any sane person to fairly operate such a draconian piece of legislation introduced under a law that carries the death penalty for alleged hate speech.”

Ozekhome further queried: “When has merely made a speech under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression become, not just treasonable felony (life imprisonment) but treason itself that is punishable with death?

“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Nigeria is a signatory to this international instrument.”

According to the senior lawyer, “Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, also domesticated in Nigeria, reinforces this inalienable freedom that the NASS is attempting to derobe and destroy. The bill is an ill-intentioned, ill-conceived, ill-digested and dictatorial and absolutist piece of nonsensical legislation waiting to consume all of us.

“An obnoxious law such as this will further drive underground and into hiding, the opposition and genuine social critics who speak truth to power and criticise serial, opaque, anti-people, corrupt and high-handed polices of government. This government has been tested and known to be very allergic to constructive criticism.”

To him, “this is a government that listens to itself, sets its own examination questions, marks them by itself and awards marks to itself. Citizens’ opinion does not matter. That is why we have topmost government officials who shock the conscience of Nigerians and the world by saying, for example, that insecurity in Nigeria was exaggerated and that Nigerian roads were not as bad as we ‘falsely’ proclaimed. A government that incarcerates the Deji Adeyanjus, Omoyele Sowores and Chido Onumas of this world cannot be trusted to be a custodian and dispenser of justice under such an abhorrent law.”

Human rights lawyer, Chief Malcom Omirhobo, said: “The Senate introduction of a bill seeking to establish a Federal Government agency to check hate speech in the country shows how idle our lawmakers are and how they are prepared to waste public funds at the slightest opportunity.

“For crying out loud, we have enough agencies and laws in Nigeria to take care of hate speech. Our problem is not the availability of laws or agencies but the implementation and enforcement of the laws by the existing agencies.

“For whatever it is worth, the Senate had better know that the Nigerian constitution has a binding force on them and that any law they pass that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression will be null and void to the extent of that inconsistency. We will not sit down mopping, we will challenge and resist it.”

A Kano-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, however, said: “Much concern has been expressed about the prospect of curbing freedom of speech and expression by such a law, if enacted. The National Assembly has got that power because that fundamental right is not absolute, as it can be derogated from under Section 45 of the constitution. The only thing is that, if made by the National Assembly, it will be limited to Abuja in scope. Beyond the FCT, only state houses of Assembly are competent to enact such legislation. But, the key thing is that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute. It stops where the rights of others to their reputations start. “

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Inside Nigeria

$3.1bn Loan: China Denies Plot To Take Over Nigeria

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Chinese President

The sovereignty clause in Nigeria’s loan agreements with China is not designed to hijack the West African nation, the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria has said.

The embassy added that concerns raised over the clause were therefore unfounded.

According to a Thursday statement signed by the Embassy’s Press Officer, Mr. Sun Saixiong, the southeast Asian nation genuinely took interest in investment and financial cooperation in Africa.

Recall that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi have recently come under severe criticism for purportedly signing away Nigeria’s sovereignty as a precondition to get loans from China.

Denying the allegation, the Embassy’s statement read, “China is committed to enhancing investment and financial cooperation with African countries based on their needs to help them improve infrastructure and extradite socioeconomic development.

“By funding infrastructure and other areas that lag behind for short of money, we have helped the relevant countries break bottlenecks, enhance their capacity for independent development, realize social and economic sustainable development, and improve people’s livelihood.

“Such cooperation has delivered tangible benefits to African countries and peoples. In the process, China always gives full consideration to debt sustainability and seeks mutually-acceptable proposals through equal and friendly consultations.

“That is the fundamental reason behind the enormous popularity of China-Africa cooperation in Africa. And such cooperation is widely welcomed by African countries.”

According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), Nigeria is currently indebted to China to the tune of $3.121 billion as of March 31, 2020.

This, the office said, represents 3.94 per cent of Nigeria’s total public debt of $79.303 billion, and 11.28 per cent of external debt stock of $27.67 billion.

In a further explanation, Saixiong reiterated that China has no interest in taking over Nigeria’s property as feared in many quarters.

“The inclusion of Sovereignty clause is a common practice in many international commercial agreements,” he told The Nation.

“We see the issue as more of Nigeria’s internal affairs. China follows the approach of no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs.

“The terms of the loans have been explained, we don’t need to say anything on the clause.”

He added, “Such a debate on loans is not the first time it will come up in Nigeria and other African countries. China will never seek hegemony and we are not out to take over any country.”

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If You Calm Down, You’ll See Buhari’s Achievements — Femi Adesina Tells Nigerians

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Buhari and Femi-Adesina

Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, has said that Nigerians will only see the achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari, if they “calm down”.

Adesina stated this in an article he published titled ”Why We Need to Calm Down’.

Making reference to a viral video of the little Oreofeoluwa Babalola pleading with his mother to calm down after she attempted to beat him for a wrongdoing, Adesina said Nigerians need to calm down and stop being angry about the problems plaguing the nation.

”But if the truth be told, that message from the boy is for the entire country. We need to calm down. We are too uptight, nervy, edgy. We grumble, murmur too much, call the government a lot of names, try to demonize those serving the nation, when it could be “our last chance. Last chance in the world” to really fix things.

If you listen to some people; angry youths, religious leaders, political analysts, newspaper columnists, news reviewers, so-called activists, then nothing positive is happening in the country. It is all about insurgency, banditry, killings, joblessness, corruption, lack and deprivation. True? False!

Those things are there, as they are also in many countries of the world. But they are not the only things happening in Nigeria. Only that we would not see the positive things, except we calmed down. We would never enjoy the rainfall, if we expect rainstorm to carry away our rooftop at any moment. Calm down. “I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down.” his article reads

Listing some of the achievements of the Buhari administration, Adesina further wrote

”One of my favorite boyhood songs is the one by Jimmy Cliff. ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Sparrow.’

Here I stand with my head down in my hand
Wondering what on earth I have done wrong
There’s a cloud that has overshadowed me
Blocks the light from my eyes, I cannot see
But I know where I wanta be
Right or wrong, I’ve got to face my destiny

Somebody tell me to
Keep your eyes on the sparrow
Keep your eyes on the sparrow
Keep it on, keep it on now
Keep your eyes on the sparrow.

That is a song of hope. It’s a song of encouragement. The God Book says God keeps His eyes on the sparrow, and none can fall down without His permission. If He watches over a bird, how much more we human beings, created in His image? But man has walked away from that original estate. We sit on the complaint counter. We murmur, curse, cavil. We rail against God, against man, against government, even against our own selves. We indulge in hate speech, concoct and spread fake news. And it blinds our eyes. It blocks the light from our eyes, and we cannot see. We never see good, even when it surrounds us. We focus only on negative narratives.

Let me give a practical example. Last Sunday, one of the guests on Sunday Politics, hosted by Seun Okinbaloye of Channels Television, was one Group Captain Sadeeq Garba (Retd). He was also deputy head of safety and security at the African Union Commission, and now a private security consultant.

The retired Air Force Officer was asked to talk about the worrisome trend of killings in the country. The man said the killings were sad and regrettable, but things were not as completely negative as some people and interest groups would want to make them seem.

Quoting what he called reliable statistics from the Centre for Research in the United States, he gave these figures of the evil development from 2011, in number of total killings:
2011-1096
2012-3761
2013-7167
2014-15,600
2015- Not available
2016-4618
2017-5763
2018-6565
2019-8350
2020-6195, as at June.

Now, one life lost is already too many. One single life should not be taken wantonly, not to talk of in hundreds and thousands. It is bestial, inhuman. But why do some people want to make it appear as if we hadn’t passed through worse times in this country? Forget about who was in power as President. It is not about individuals now, it is about the descent of a country into the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short. For President Muhammadu Buhari, it’s a solemn pledge that lives and property would be secured. And a lot is being done in that direction, though we are not there yet. Unkind, negative comments can only demoralize those fighting to secure the country.

When the President said recently that things were better in the area of security than what he met in 2015, some people wailed endlessly, as is their wont to. But when the Group Captain came with facts and figures on national television last Sunday, not one word was heard. Not even a whimper!Why do people like to spread negative, rather than positive developments? Killings dropped from 15,600 in 2014 to 4,618 in 2016. But not one positive word. Simply because their eyes are blinded by negative thoughts and sentiments. And they now need to calm down. Rather than upbraid, our security agencies should be challenged and encouraged to rediscover what they did in 2016.

During the week, Ministry of Power said electricity generation had returned to over 5,000 megawatts. Not a word from professional complainers. If it had dropped to below 1,000 megawatts, we would not have heard anything else. Calm down. “I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down.”

If we calm down, what would we see? Massive infrastructural developments. Roads, rail, airports, bridges, efforts to reverse power deficit of many decades, newly approved Youth Bank to empower the younger generation, strident efforts to secure the country, N2.3 trillion stimulus package to combat the negative effect of COVID-19, and many other positive developments. There are many, and many more.

Jesus looked at Jerusalem, and wept over it, saying: “if thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto thy peace. But now, they are hid from thine eyes.” (Luke 19:42).”

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Inside Nigeria

BREAKING: FG Extends COVID-19 Lockdown

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The Federal Government has announced extension of the second phase of the eased lockdown for another four weeks.

The extension is the third for the second phase.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 announced this during the Task Force briefing in Abuja.

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