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.
Senate: Echoes of negative tales from Kogi
CHUKWU DAVID reports on how Kogi has continued to feature in the proceedings of the Senate as a result of power tussle among political gladiators in the state
Kogi State has become a regular feature in the legislative proceedings of the Senate. In recent times, whenever Kogi is mentioned during Senate in plenary, it is not usually for any complimentary development, but for negative issues that attract serious criticisms from the lawmakers.
Most times, the issues border on insecurity, political crisis between the governor, Yahaya Bello and politicians from the state, particularly the three senators representing the state in the upper legislative chamber, especially Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), and lately Atai Aidoko (Kogi East) and Ahmed Ogembe (Kogi Central).
It is pertinent to note that while the tussle for who would become the governor of Kogi heightened, after the demise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) flag-bearer, Abubakar Audu, Senator Melaye was a formidable supporter of Bello, to the point that he (Melaye) declared that Bello was anointed by God to rule the state.
However, few months after Bello was inaugurated, his relationship with Melaye turned sour and even became bitter. In fact, the feud between the two politicians is now so obvious that political watchers are concerned that if it is not properly addressed, it might degenerate to a regrettable end.
This lingering political feud between the duo has actually gone to give credence to the popular saying that in politics “there are no permanent friends or enemies, but permanent interests.”
Melaye served as the chairman of the transition committee that worked out the modalities for a hitch-free handing over of power to Bello and his eventual inauguration on January 27, 2016, and also served as the master of ceremony at the inauguration of Bello at the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja.
The senator, who was then highly elated at the emergence of Bello as the governor of his state, was unequivocal in telling the whole world that Kogi people voted for Audu, but God voted for Bello and anointed him as the political leader of the state. He further asked the people to give unflinching support to Bello-led government, describing it as “divinely orchestrated.”
Surprisingly, the close friends of yesterday are today becoming the worst political enemies, with their unabating political conflict threatening the peace and progress of the Kogi people.
Some analysts claim that the genesis of the lingering political impasse between Bello and Melaye could be traced to some of the political appointments made by the governor as it was alleged that the governor sidelined the senator and the party structure at the state level.
However, one of the first issues that Melaye brought to the Senate against Bello was the issue of non-payment of salaries and pensions to workers and pensioners, as well as the continued closure of all tertiary institutions in the state on the account of strike embarked upon by lecturers due to non-payment of salaries.
Another negative issue that featured Kogi in Senate plenary session was the alleged failed assassination attempt on Melaye’s in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. The lawmaker told the Red Chamber that it was Governor Bello’s killer squard that tried to eliminate him, but God saved him.
The lawmaker explained that he was on a routine visit to his constituency and was received by his constituents in Kabba and other places, but was attacked when he came to the state capital. He claimed that the encounter at Lokoja turned bloody when one of the governor’s hit-men was killed while some persons on his entourage sustained injuries.
The senators condemned the alleged attack on their colleague and stressed the need for politicians not to heat up the polity, while also urging on the importance of members of the different arms of government collectively working to deliver dividends of democracy to the electorate rather than giving them crisis and apprehension.
In another development, the Senate also on March 3, mandated its Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to investigate the allegation of multiple registration against Governor Bello. The Senate had frowned at the alleged issuance of Temporary Voters’ Card (TVC) to Bello and insisted that it must be investigated.
However, this time around, it was not Senator Melaye that brought the matter to the apex legislative chamber, but Senator Mohammed Hassan (PDP, Yobe State), who brought a motion to that effect, pointing out that the investigation would help in sanitising the electoral system.
Hassan in his presentation, said: “There is this situation going round regarding the governor of Kogi State. It was reported recently in the newspapers that the governor of Kogi State was involved in double registration in the voter registration exercise.”
Shortly after that, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) held a press conference at which it confirmed that three members of its staff have been sacked over the matter.
Within this month (March), the Senate also passed a resolution on Kogi State, following a motion entitled “Increased and alarming spate of political intimidation and violence in Kogi Central Senatorial District of Kogi State,” sponsored by Senator Ogembe.
The lawmaker representing Kogi Central had in his motion, told the apex chamber that on Saturday March 3, he organised an empowerment programme for his constituents, but that the event was disrupted by hoodlums and miscreants, who meted violence to his constituents.
He also told the Senate that the Police Area Commander, Okene and the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Okene, Okehi and Adavi local government areas within his senatorial district were aware of the programme and the violence unleashed on the beneficiaries and his supporters, yet they did nothing.
On March 14, the Senate also raised the alarm over alleged illegal establishment and equipment of state police under the guise of vigilante service by the Kogi State government, thereby bringing Kogi to a negative light again.
As usual, the Senate mandated its Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to invite the National Security Adviser (NSA), with a view to investigating the alleged illegal establishment.
The apex legislative chamber also directed that after the investigation, the NSA should advise the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to disband the unconstitutional security outfit.
The Red Chamber further decried the action of Governor Bello, pointing out that his actions and tendencies had been posing serious security threats to the existence and stability of democracy in Nigeria.
The Senate made these resolutions following a motion brought to the floor by Melaye, who cited Orders 42 and 52, to draw the attention of the Senate to the setting up of the vigilante service in total breach of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said that the vigilante service had already commenced operations and was equipped with sophisticated weapons, even better than what the Police have.
On March 8, Kogi was again in the Senate news, forming part of its major deliberations that day and leading some paper and making front page in others the following day. This time, Senator Melaye accused Governor Bello of importing restricted security gadgets without obtaining the end user certificate from the National Security Adviser (NSA), as required by the law of the land.
Melaye said he had sufficient proof to show that the items were imported without the NSA’s knowledge. He explained that the Customs Service intercepted the items which were in the custody of Nigeria Aviation Handling Company of Nigeria (NAHCO).
The most recent mention of Kogi in the Senate proceedings was last week Thursday, when the Chamber received the sad news of the invasion of some communities in the state by armed Fulani herdsmen, with about 32 persons reportedly killed and property destroyed.
Consequently, the Red Chamber called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to use his powers as the country’s commander-in-chief to stop the senseless killings across the country by armed Fulani herdsmen.
The Senate also urged the President to direct the police, the military and all the nation’s security forces to as a matter of urgency, move into the affected communities in Kogi and other parts of the country and bring the killings under control.
The Red Chamber further called on the Inspector-General of Police and all the security agencies to arrest the perpetrators.
The resolutions were sequel to the adoption of a Point of Order by Senator Atai Aidoko (Kogi-East), who told the Senate that 20 people were killed in Ogane-Enugu community in Dekina, while 12 others were killed in Agbejukolo, Agbenema communities in Omala Local Government Area.
No doubt, the Confluence State has persistently featured on the negative side in the Senate, but the development puts a big question mark on the political maturity of some political leaders in the state.
Adeniran: Security apparatus requires urgent rejuvenation
Comrade Debo Adeniran, a human rights activist, is the Chairman of Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL)
The news of the release of the Dapchi girls is very elating and timely. We rejoice with the families, friends, colleagues and wellwishers of the abducted girls, who have been released by the Boko Haram Sect. It is heart-warming to receive the news of the release even as security agencies continue to pass the buck amongst themselves.
Though the return of the kidnapped students should put a stop to the blamegame that has been going on between security agencies, a number of social media gladiators have started mooting and weaving a “conspiracy theory” to wrap up in the mud, the monumental significance of this release.
As far as we are concern at CACOL, we urge Nigerians to shun making political profits over this highly traumatic incidence. Families, especially children, should never under any circumstance be subjected to situations that de-robes their humanity or commoditise their lives as items for pecuniary and political advantages. At this junction, all human beings with any iota of human feelings should rejoice and feel relieved. While we condemn all acts of individual or social terrorism, we in the same vein demand from government and its security agencies to ensure the release of the remaining Chibok girls that were abducted by the same Boko Haram sect since 2014.
Having stated this, we call for forensic audit the country’s security apparatus with a view to making them more pro-active in tackling security challenges confronting the nation. We must accept that the responses of our security forces falls abysmally below pass mark if not even below failure marks.
Their operational performance is totally untenable just as it does not justify the huge security expenditures particularly the security votes of all chief executive officers of the states in the federation. We call on the Federal Government to rejuvenate the security apparatus to enhance their capacities in combating insurgency and other violent acts in all parts of the country.
Security personnel must be trained and re-training persistently, given that it has become very obvious that the war against insurgency is a long-drawn one that must be confronted with expertise and creative strategies. All incentives necessary for the optimal performance of the security agencies must be given including improving on the living and working conditions of personnel.
SDP: The emergence of third force
The defection of some members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has provoked a debate on whether the SDP is the much anticipated third force ahead of the 2019 general elections, ONYEKACHI EZE reports
It is, perhaps, the best of time for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which suffered electoral misfortune during the 2015 general elections. Though it was not among the popular parties then, it won a seat in the House of Representatives through Hon. Kwamoti Laori representing Demsa/Numan/ Lamurde federal constituency of Adamawa State.
The party did not win any executive office or any senatorial seat in the 2015 elections. As a matter of fact, SDP did not field a presidential candidate during the polls. Instead, it adopted the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Abdul Isiaq, then SDP National Publicity Secretary, explained then that the decision to adopt Jonathan was based on a report of a committee set up by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on adoption of a presidential candidate. According to him, the then PDP presidential candidate accepted the SDP’s required conditions to warrant the party’s support.
The conditions include faithful implementation of the 2014 National Conference report, zero tolerance for corruption and intensification of efforts to defeat insurgency in the North-East. “Based on the foregoing observations, the committee has unanimously recommended that SDP should endorse and support the candidature of Jonathan.
This is to enable him to complete the restructuring of the polity based on the report of the National Conference, 2014. The party has accepted these recommendations and hereby directed all its supporters and members throughout Nigeria to vote for Jonathan,” Isiaq explained then. Ironically, the SDP National Chairman, Chief Olu Falae, was the joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) in 1999. He lost to the eventual winner, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP. Since the 2015 general elections, Falae has been in the news.
He was among the politicians accused of collecting money from former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), from the $2.1 million allegedly meant to buy arms to fight Boko Haram insurgents. The sun of N100 million was allegedly traced to Falae from the arms fund. Again, he was kidnapped on his 77th birthday on September 21, 2015, while in his farm at Ilado village in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State, but was released three days later (September 24).
But, Falae’s spirit has not been dampened by these ordeals. Rather, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) continues to trudge on. Also, his party did not allow the electoral misfortune of 2015 and the allegation that it benefitted from the arms fund to hamper its rebuilding. The rebuilding efforts seem to be paying off as the party has gradually become the “beautiful bride” ahead of the 2019 elections given recent developments in the polity.
Just recently, some members of the PDP, who felt aggrieved after the December 9, 2017 national convention of the party, joined the SDP. Among them were two founding members of the former ruling party, Prof. Jerry Gana and Prof. Tunde Adeniran.
A former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prof. Ahmed Rufai Alkali, also joined the defection train. Adeniran was one of the defeated national chairmanship aspirants at the convention, while Gana was Chairman of the PDP Strategy Review and Inter-party Affairs Committee that had commenced merger talk with SDP and other political parties ahead of the 2019 general elections.
SDP National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Alpha Mohammed, who spoke on the “new arrivals,” said seven serving governors and 15 serving senators have indicated interest to also join the party. He also disclosed that five former members of the House of Representatives have hinted of their desire to move to the platform.
His words: Already, arrangement is on top gear to welcome seven former governors, 15 serving senators, five former members of the House of Representatives as well as six top stakeholders from the two leading political parties in the North Central geo-political zone.
“The SDP is set to provide the much desired credible leadership in Nigeria come 2019. Already, taking the advantages of the failure of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to provide Nigerians with the promised positive change for which it was elected, as well as the crisis in the PDP, which just suffered a rejection at the 2015 polls, the SDP is currently engaged in serious and fruitful discussions with credible and progressive minded individuals and groups within the country.
“The promising team being built by SDP shall comprise of energetic young and experienced middle aged Nigerians, who are passionate about reverting the country back to its glorious days as the giant of Africa. “Meanwhile, one of the centre points of SDP’s quest to rule Nigeria is job creation, women and youths empowerment, and the quest shall be youths driven.
To this end, a committee of experts has been put in place to articulate a programme that would see the party empowering at least one million youths and women in between now and 2018, across the country.” Mohammed’s optimism was justified last week, when Hon. Emmanuel Bello, a former member of the House of Representatives led over a thousand APC members in Adamawa State to join the SDP. The SDP claimed to be the third force former President Olusegun Obasanjo talked about in his letter to President Muhammadu Buhari early this year that would win the 2019 presidential election. Adeniran, who buttressed the claim, said in an interview that the SDP is “the third force of the coalition of progressives…. Whatever name you call it, SDP has become a force to be reckoned with and it will soon become a party to beat. People believe that SDP is a viable platform to really get to the Promised Land for Nigeria.”
He also disclosed that members of the Coalition for New Nigeria Movement (CNM) will join the SDP for next year’s general elections “because Nigerians will reject PDP and APC at the polls.” Former Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Chief Akin Osuntokun, who is also a member of CNM, corroborated Adeniran’s position, when said the group will collaborate with SDP in the July governorship election in Ekiti State.
He said: “We are doing that with SDP because it is inevitable that election is coming and we have to be mindful of the timeline. It does not mean we (CNM leaders) have finally resolved to work with SDP. We have only asked our people to contest on SDP platform.” The SDP spokesperson, Mohammed, however explained that though the party is presently not enjoying the support of Obasanjo, some members of his coalition attended the meeting where SDP was adopted as a third force.
Mohammed further disclosed that some members of the National Intervention Movement (NIM) were equally at the meetings. “The National Intervention Movement – Dr. Jahlil Tafawa Balewa, the South-West Coordinator of the NIM, Dr. Olu Agunloye, and so on, were there. Then, you have Sani Garba, who is a staunch member of the coalition; he was there. In fact, he gave the closing remarks. “In Chief Obasanjo’s organisation, members were present and I think it won’t be wrong if I say that the organisation was represented at the endorsement ceremony of the SDP.
“The organisation has not made an open declaration, but we have a lot of them coming. Very soon, when we stabilise, one by one, the organisations will visit the party secretariat and make open declarations. “It is a mass movement that we have now; the SDP has become like a mass movement in Nigeria, so many people have been trooping into this party.
The traffic of new members has become so high and it has never happened in the history of Nigeria,” he said. While SDP continue to witness influx of new members, there are some political schools of thought which believe that the party is unlikely to make much impact in the 2019 general elections.
This is probably because none of those who have so far joined the party could alter any political equation, even in their own ward. Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said the exit of Adeniran and Gana from PDP would not affect the fortune of the party because PDP was not on built on personalities. Although he admitted that the two politicians contributed greatly to the growth of the PDP, Babatope however, said the party should respect their decision to leave and move on.
“I am not one of those calling for their return to the PDP because they have the democratic right to join any party that suits them. Again, they are competent and intelligent adults, who must have reasoned very well before they took the decision.
“Even though the feeling might not be too good, being that I have known them for long, especially Adeniran, I cannot fault or stop their decisions. I believe the PDP will remain strong even with their exit, as the party was built on a strong foundation and not personalities,” he said.
Babatope expressed doubts that the SDP would evolve to be a dominant party before 2019 as political parties need time to develop. He, however, added that “if at the end of the day, the SDP develops into a dominant party like its chieftains have claimed, good, then, we will have three dominant parties. We will all be competing together for the votes of Nigerians.
I think that will be good for democracy,” he said. PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, on his part, described those who left PDP for SDP as retired politicians, who have outlived their usefulness. “They are running around from pillar to post. We will not bother them. They are our fathers.
When the time comes, they will come back and the youths will provide food for them,” he said. No doubt, leaders of the SDP are savouring the turn-around in their party’s fortune, but only time will tell if it will translate to electoral victory in the forthcoming elections.
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