Is an agency against hate speech really necessary?

In March 2018, the Nigerian Senate introduced an unsuccessful anti-hate bill for consideration and the bill, known now as the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, has been reintroduced on Tuesday with sponsorship from Senator Aliyu Abdullahi. 

This bill, in the same vein as its predecessor, sets to amongst many things, prescribes a death penalty for anyone found guilty of directing false statements, that leads to the death of anyone and also proposes the setting up of a national commission, to help probe and prosecute offenders.

Apart from the bill’s vague and overreaching contents, the details which revolve around the prevention of ethnic rivalries through hate speech, come off as grossly unnecessary and misplaced, to say the least. 

At this time, a commission of this nature, will simply be unresponsive and unhelpful to the country’s most pressing needs. Costing money, manpower and possibly opening up space for the most basic of human rights, which is the freedom of speech and expression, to be trampled upon.

With recurrent cases of journalists getting detained, arrested, assaulted and barred from investigating governmental policies and calling for more accountability, this bill could easily help back up these breaches in our already wonky democratic fabric.

Amidst the uproar and dissent to this proposed bill still in its first reading, it is intriguing to consider why the senate feels this bill is important at this time. And while the crux of the bill’s aims is to promote ethnic plurality and the respectful dissemination of opinions, there is the question of who gets to determine the virility of the critique of power.

A democracy should at its core allow for the honest opinions and perceptions of the people represented in government and anything going against this is a country leaning effectively towards a totalitarian structure. It is no news that the base of this bill stems from a diverse and long-standing expression of opinions by Nigerians towards the present administration, and if these expressed sentiments should be regarded as anything, it should simply highlight the country’s problems and where it still needs fixing.

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