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MAN IN THE NEWS: Sabi Abdullahi: An apostle of a curious hate bill

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MAN IN THE NEWS: Sabi Abdullahi: An apostle of a curious hate bill

Senator Sabi Abdullahi (Niger, APC) stirred the hornets’ nest recently, when he introduced a Bill on Hate Speech in the Senate. Wale Elegbede writes on the attempt by the Senate’s spokesperson to legislate against purveyors of hate speech through capital punishment

 

Although Senator Sabi Abdullahi (Niger, APC) is in his first term in the Senate, he is arguably one of the fast learners in the Eighth Senate.

 

Aside from being gifted with oratory skills, his disposition among his colleagues has endeared him to them dearly.

 

He is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity. The 50-year-old lawmaker, who represents Niger North, prior to heading to the legislative chamber in Abuja, worked as a veterinary research officer from 1992 to 2006 and Special Assistant/ Head of Planning and Institutional Development and Department.

 

Having observed the ugly trend of hate speech that has dominated the nation’s information landscape especially the social media, Senator Abdullahi felt concerned and decided to put his patriotism to work by sponsoring a bill that will nip the blight in the bud. Perhaps, the November 3, 2017, experience of the senator in his Kontagora, Niger State constituency office, where he was verbally insulted, assaulted and had his convoy pelted with stones, was a point in reference for the now controversial bill.

 

But for the lawmaker, there is nothing personal in his decision to put together the “National Hate Speech Commission Establishment Bill” as his sponsorship of the bill was informed by cases of religious and ethnic violence experienced in the past years.

 

Although the bill did not prescribe death by hanging for persons that make hate speech as widely believed, it however, stipulates death by hanging for only those found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person after judicial processes.

The long title of the bill, which has passed first reading in the Senate, is: “An Act of the National Assembly to Promote National Cohesion and Integration by Outlawing Unfair Discrimination, Hate Speeches and to Provide for the Establishment, Powers and Functions of the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches and for Purposes Connected Therewith.”

 

The bill seeks the establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches to enforce hate speech laws across the country and ensure the “elimination” of hate speech. For offences such as harassment on grounds of ethnicity or race, the offender shall be sentenced to “not less than a five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.”

 

It further states that “a person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threat-ening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” commits an offence.

 

“A person who 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 (a) violating that other person’s dignity or (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.

 

“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.

 

“The National Commission for Hate Speeches shall be headed by an executive chairperson, who would be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the National Council of State, subject to the confirmation of at least two-third majority of the National Assembly.

 

“The commission shall discourage persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encourage full participation by all ethnic communities in the social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities.

 

“It shall also 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.

 

“It shall furthermore promote respect for religious, cultural, linguistic and other forms of diversity in a plural society; promote equal access by persons of all ethnic communities and racial groups to public or other services and facilities provided by the government.”

 

Expectedly, the bill has generated controversy as well as drew the ire of members of the civil society fraternity, who believe that the APC administration has been intolerant of criticisms, and therefore, is looking for means to gag public opinion against it. A Social Media Regulation Bill was recently stepped down in the Senate following public uproar.

 

But, the Senate’s spokesman in de-fence of the bill, said those criticising it are doing so because they haven’t lost a relative to violence instigated by hate speech. “People who may be having some opposing views about it definitely are not in the category of people, who have lost dear ones and family or livelihood to similar circumstances.

 

If they are, I think they will be saying how I wish this was in place before this thing happened to me,” he said. While dismissing insinuations that the law could be used by politicians to victimise their opponents, Abdullahi stressed that the law is intended to serve as a preventive measure to deaths arising from violence started by hate speeches.

 

His words: “For me, it’s in response to the series of events. With all intents and purposes, it is motivated by what we term hate speech in the real technical sense. In the past couple of years in this country, hate speech is driven by many variables; the issue of religion and ethnicity, and because of that, lots of lives have been lost.

 

The question I want to ask is, why. “Why must I die because I am somebody and somebody somewhere feels otherwise and makes statement that at the end of the day provokes intense anger and rage leading to violence, breakdown of law and order and I lose my life, my family, and sometimes I never even get to recover and nobody is even punished?

 

“This is becoming a contemporary problem if you look at it in the past couple of years. It is assuming a dangerous dimension for us to ignore. I am of the opinion that we must learn from history. There are lots of cases where violence that is unusual either from individuals or groups was actually motivated by hate speeches. “I sat and I said we just have to find a way of having a system in place that will systematically address this issue and get people to realise that is the way to go.

 

The bill is not really looking at the policy side, there are lots of mechanisms to moderate our discourse, engagement in a manner that we don’t overheat the polity and in the process endanger other people’s lives.”

 

Although the public perception of the bill is already faulty, it is expected that the lawmakers would especially during the public hearing on it, put it in proper perspective for public acceptance. However, the big question time would answer is whether the law will see the light of the day or will get aborted along the line of the legislative process.

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