Our Lawmakers’ Hate Laws

Tunde Odediran writes that if Nigerian allowed the two proposed hate laws bills become laws they would reverse essential freedoms enjoyed under a democratic setting and give the political class too much room to punish those with differing opinions.

Senator Aliyu-Sabi-Abdullahi is the champion of the ‘Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill' in the Nigerian Senate / Photo credit: pmnewsnigeria.com
Senator Aliyu-Sabi-Abdullahi is the champion of the ‘Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill' in the Nigerian Senate / Photo credit: pmnewsnigeria.com

The Nigerian millionaire lawmakers have no reputation for making laws that have a significant impact on people’s lives.

However, they are working hard to make two new laws that are significantly dreadful in their demonstration of hate against the ordinary Nigerian.

It is quite surprising that an area in which the lawmakers would try to show their mojo is around stifling the freedom of speech.

It cannot be coincidental that the two bills simultaneously making their way into law are two sides of a coin.

The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 and the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill are speeding through as if the National Assembly is a race track.

As Nigerians raise their voices against the two bills, I add mine with a warning that these bills are so dangerous, we should fight as if we are back under military rule.

The bills, if passed into law, will reverse essential freedoms enjoyed under a democratic setting and give the political class too much room to punish those with differing opinions.

The proponents lack democratic values and are doing it for yet undisclosed selfish gains. There is a new hidden agenda at play.

The social media bill, the one tagged the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, bans any writing “likely to be prejudicial to national security” and “those which may diminish public confidence” in the government.

Offenders will be punished by a fine, a prison sentence of three years, or both; and a possible loss of privilege to use the Internet.

Our fattened lawmakers, who make more money than their peers anywhere in the world, cannot be allowed to take more from us

At the root if this battle against the social media is a desire by the government to stop discussions that they are uncomfortable with in a medium that is too wide for them to control.

The interpretable intent of the APC-controlled National Assembly is to protect its power from unfavorable and denigrating comments on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other humongous media.

The law will muzzle free speech and curtail vibrant discussions in the public space.

Not only can offenders be punished, the ruling government can become reactive and oppressive like the government of Iran, where the Internet has been shut down for weeks following public uprising against the increase of the pump price of oil.

Hyper-sensitive officials have always sought ways to limit what their citizens can do in the marketplace of ideas when opinions do not favor the government.

In reaction, they attempt to abrogate power without regard to the rights of their citizens. This is the background to the in-your-face manner that the legislators are forcing through their abhorrent bills.

As the British colonialists aimed to stifle public discourse and democratic freedoms through the sedition law, our own elected public officials are taking away our freedom by weaving together a legislative potpourri to shield themselves from our comments and take away our right to demand good governance.

We will be injuring ourselves perpetually if we fail to fight it.

The hate speech law, which would establish the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, is even more draconian than the social media one in its reach, and far more dangerous in its aspiration to silence the people.

The bill, in its original draft, would make punishable by death the spreading of falsehood that leads to the death of another person.

Going by the bill’s provisions, “any person who commits this offence shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.” Death by hanging, a la Ken Saro-Wiwa!

One of the writers of the bill is already claiming those objecting to it have violated the law by attacking his person in the mass media. That shows you the way they intend to use it.

At the root if this battle against the social media is a desire by the government to stop discussions that they are uncomfortable with in a medium that is too wide for them to control

The major defect with the law is that its writers do not even have a good grasp of the definition of hate speech.

Hate speech is always about statements that express prejudice against a particular group on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Nigerian legislators or government are neither a race, religion nor a sexual orientation.

Besides, hate speech laws, where they are allowed, are targeted at extreme circumstances, such as when such can lead to genocide.

Offensive speech is not hate speech, and most of the rubbish that the government is trying to pass into law reside in the ambit of offensive and libelous speech, which can be easily dealt with through the existing defamation laws.

These laws will be used against political opponents, journalists and the critical public. Nigeria does not need more laws because we already live in a society where the government does what it wants and silences its opponents.

The Federal Government has a monopoly over law enforcement.

As I write, the government is continually breaking the law by refusing to release from detention, the convener of an anti-government protest, the founder of Saharareporters.com, Mr. Omoyele Sowore.

A government that can so dastardly break the law cannot be entrusted with more powers.

Nigeria’s constitution protects the rights to unhindered speech, expression and association.

Nigeria is also signatory to international and African human rights laws which protect the right to freedom of expression and require that restrictions must be justifiable in a democratic society.

Our lawmakers and their political cohorts are failing in their duties and forgetting how we got here.

If they are too young to remember, the military class did not award us this democratic environment. We fought for it. People died. People lost property and careers. People suffered. People ran away and never returned. People suffered.

Our politicians, the benefactors of the collective sufferings through years of military rule, cannot toy with laws that would put Nigeria under the jackboot of any government in power. It is unacceptable, and it must be resisted.

Those now strolling the corridors of power have demonstrated no sense of history or logic. By thinking this is how to make Nigeria’s democratic culture strong and thriving, they are, in fact, stupid and clueless.

These are two laws will over time unravel Nigeria’s democracy. They will set the stage for the entrance of a dictator who will use them, just as the former military administrations did in 1984 through 1999.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by the way, happens to be the title of the classic novel by George Orwell, where he peeped into a future of political oppression, government surveillance and a super-state in which the people’s rights were brazenly taken away. The novel is a story not too far from what happened in Nigeria in 1984 and what is being attempted now.

The major defect with the law is that its writers do not even have a good grasp of the definition of hate speech

Our fattened lawmakers, who make more money than their peers anywhere in the world, cannot be allowed to take more from us. One cannot but conclude that the National Assembly assumes the Nigerian public are forever stupid, dormant and accepting of any oppressive laws.

How else can we explain why, in the face of unprecedented uprising against political leadership all around the world, Nigerian leaders would even think this is the time to restrict us.

Have they not read that more than at any time in this generation, the masses are demanding freedom and good leadership?

A wave of civil demonstrations is sweeping the developing world with immature democracy, and Nigeria is just at the precipice of it.

Governments have fallen or are just about to fall in Bolivia, Chile, Iraq, Iran, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Peru, Sudan, Argentina, Columbia, Venezuela and Lebanon, to name just some.

Common people are fighting corruption, inequality, economic problems and political misrule.
The National Assembly, with any common sense, will realize it is just digging its own early grave because the Arabian Sun is a global sun.

The people may not remain dormant forever, especially if they are continually forced to give more when they have already given all

Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.

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