A Civil Society group known as Civil Rights Council has written to the National Assembly of Federal Republic of Nigeria to withdraw the hate speech and social media bill of 2019.
FULL STATEMENT BELOW
28th November, 2019
The Senate President and Chairman,
National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
National Assembly Complex,
Three Zone Arms,
PETITION AGAINST THE PROTECTION FROM INTERNET FALSEHOOD AND MANIPULATION AND OTHER RELATED MATTERS BILL 2019 AND THE PROHIBITION OF HATE SPEECH BILL 2019
Civil Rights Council is a community based human rights organisation with branches across the country. Our interests are in the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and the advancement of democratic ethos and principles in Nigeria. In doing this, we join our collective strength to seek justice and address societal wrongs against the citizens of this nation and to raise awareness, complain and advocate against human rights abuses and likely human rights infringements by acts of private persons or acts of the government.
On this note we write to condemn the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill 2019 and also the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill 2019 that are both before the National Assembly, in the process of being passed into law. Both bills if passed into law will undermine the democratic foundations on which this nation is built and betray the trust that Nigerians have bestowed on the National Assembly to properly represent their interest.
Particularly, the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, even by the mare fact that it is before the National Assembly of the Federation, ridicules the democracy that Nigeria in its Constitution enthrones. Section 4 of the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill which provides that ‘a person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes, and/or direct the performance of any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends to thereby stir up ethnic hatred or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such ethnic group in Nigeria’ and further provides for life imprisonment and death by hanging where the act leads to los of life, is an affront on fundamental human rights provisions of the Constitution, particularly, section 33 and section 39.
Again, the objective of the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill 2019 do not justify the provisions of the Bill which restricts the transmission and dissemination of information, a vital aspect of the right to the freedom of information under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For avoidance of doubt, the provisions of Section 39 states thus:
Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions:
Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –
for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
It is clear that the National Assembly in its wisdom deemed it fit to have the right to the freedom of information in the number one law in Nigeria, the Constitution. The fact that the same National Assembly is considering going against the same provision despite the agitations from different parts of the country and even the international community goes beyond the comprehension of Nigerians.
As a human rights organisation, we appreciate the intention of the National Assembly to protect lives and ensure security and unity in Nigeria through these laws. However, the proposed laws are not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society and so long as these laws, considering its untenable provisions are not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society, the process of enacting it into a law is an exercise in futility as it is already invalidated by the Constitution.
We would also like to remind you that there are laws that already provide for the mischief which the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill 2019 and the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill 2019 aims to resolve. The Criminal Code for example criminalises false statements under the provision for defamation in Section 373 of the Criminal Code Act. Section 26 of the Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention, ETC) Act, 2015 also criminalises any person who distributes any information that insults any person or group of persons by reason of their ethnicity or materials that incites violence.
Civil Rights Council strongly condemn the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill 2019 and the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill 2019 and request that the National Assembly vote against the passing of the Bills into laws in Nigeria. This is to ensure that democracy and human rights are promoted in the federation and also to ensure that the image of Nigeria is strengthened in the international community.
Thank you as you oblige our request.
Mercy Christopher, Esq. Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna Esq.
Legal Adviser National Coodrinator