Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, has said that opponents of the Hate Speech Bill were ignorant of the looming dangers of not passing the bill into law.
Abdullahi’s warning is coming in the wake of angry reactions against the bill since it was introduced on the floor of the Senate.
In a statement on Sunday, Abdullahi, who is the sponsor of the bill, said opponents of the bill were only pretending to protect Freedom of Speech by misinforming Nigerians on the intent of the legislation before the National Assembly.
Abdullahi warned Nigerians to beware of “false information being spilled out by some persons and groups parading themselves as serving the interest of the nation”.
Citing a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on ‘Overcoming Dangerous Speech and Endemic Religious Divides in Central Nigeria’, the lawmaker said persons with strong bias capable of escalating ethnic and religious violence were infiltrating the media.
He said: “Such persons and groups are opposed to the passage of a Hate Speech Law by the National Assembly as same would put an end to their trade that depends on using ethnic and religious bias for the realisation of self-serving interests.
“Both Christians and Muslims have said that the media blatantly expresses bias against their religion, and that journalists will deliberately not report their story or perspective.
“Outside the immediate communities affected by a specific incident, the general public’s understanding of violent events is often incomplete.
“In some cases, false news about attacks has incited the people to undertake revenge attacks in various parts of the country.”
Senator Abdullahi, who cited another report by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), said there were strong indicators making it imperative for the introduction of legislation by the National Assembly to criminalise hate speech which is responsible for high cases of violence and killing.
The CITAD report, according to Abdullahi, reads in part: “In 2017, Nigeria experienced the continuation of three major conflicts that provided a fertile ground for the propagation of hate speech.
“These were the resurgence of the Biafra agitation in the South East, the clash between the army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, popularly referred to as the Shiites Movement in the North West, and the transformation of the localised farmers-herders conflict and cattle rustling to the large scale rural banditry that had taken an ethno-religious character across much of the North West and North Central zones of the country.
“Across the country, scores of people were killed as a result of these conflicts, further providing fuel for the wildfire of hate speech.
“More than at any time in the recent history of the country, hate speech became widely used in public discourse and communication.
“They fueled a dynamic that weakened national cohesion and made it difficult for the country to collectively address the threat to peace that affected the population in the country.”