Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), has declared that the death penalty proposed for anyone found culpable of hate speech would be amended by the Senate when the bill is subjected to legislative input by the National Assembly.
The proposal in the bill had attracted criticisms from Nigerians within the last 12 days when it passed through first reading on the floor of the Senate.
Abdullahi in a personally signed statement, said the bill would undergo some fine-tuning to ensure that the clauses contained in its provisions to be passed into law reflect the views of Nigerians.
He also said the Senate would welcome contributions and inputs by critics and supporters of the bill, as these would go a long way towards giving Nigerians the much awaited law to address the disturbing trend of hate speech.
Hate speech, according to him, has led to the death of many and was a major factor behind depression and suicide in Nigeria.
He said, “We have followed closely arguments for and against the hate speech bill, and seen the reason why some kicked against it.
“Given the high respect which we have for Nigerians, we will make amendment to the death penalty aspect that most Nigerians objected to, so that a bill that meets their expectations is passed into law.
“Clearly from the conversations, Nigerians agree that we have a problem in the society today as a result of hate speech which has fueled so many killings and violence, and is responsible for cases of depression and suicides.”
Citing a World Health Organisation report, Abdullahi disclosed that Nigeria which is the seventh-largest country in the world “has Africa’s highest rate of depression and ranks fifth in the world frequency of suicide.”
The lawmaker explained that the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to be established would guard against every act of discrimination against Nigerians by way of victimisation.
The Commission, according to Abdullahi, would have an executive chairperson, a secretary and twelve commissioners appointed through rigorous process involving the National Council of State, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the National Assembly.
In order to protect the independence of the commission, he stated that the bill provides that those qualified to be appointed as members of the commission must not be: members of the National Assembly or any government in authority at the Local, State or Federal Levels.
The lawmaker added that any person, who is a member of any political party or known to be affiliated with partisan politics, or has promoted sectional, ethnic, religious causes or openly advocated partisan ethnic positions or interest, stands disqualified from being appointed to serve on the commission.
“The overall concern is to curb violence and unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods of Nigerians due to hate-induced violence,” Abdullahi added.
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, had in July, this year, warned against ethnic and religious demonisation, noting that such actions could trigger violent confrontation amongst Nigerians.
Kukah stated this while delivering a speech at a colloquium on fake news and hate speech organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies, an arm of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).
According to Kukah, “hate speech often precede any genocide experienced in history.”