A Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Barr. Elijah Briggs has added his voice to the raging controversial “Hate Speech’ Bill that is presently on the floor of the National Assembly. Barr. Briggs made this disclosure while responding to questions on the issue from our correspondent.
The youthful radical lawyer noted that the proposed Bill is ill conceived, especially for a democratic county like Nigeria, pointing out that the action breaches the right of the average Nigerian to personal opinion and fundamental right to expression.
He maintains that the proposed Bill only duplicates the already existing law on defamation under the Law on Torts, hence a complete duplication of an existing law which is completely baloney.
According to him, “The proposed Hate speech Bill is rather ill-conceived and portends grave danger on the freedom of speech and right to hold an opinion as guaranteed by the provisions of the Constitution. The law on defamation under the law of torts in our legal system already suffices to cater for areas where a citizen in the exercise of his right infringes upon the right of another. The proposed bill is thus superfluous, vindictive and completely unnecessary.
The law on sedition and libel remains extant and has not been repealed thus giving credence to the presumption that the proposed bill is a mere cosmetic surplus age aimed at a target group with a predetermined consequence to mete on through the instrumentality of the law”.
The Kalabari-born lawyer expressed disappointment with the present crop of lawmakers in our National Assembly, noting that the said proposed law is only a mockery of itself since, as it noted it is just a mere cosmetic exercise raised at the breach of itself.
“The freedom of speech has always been guaranteed. No law which goes contrary to the dictates of the Constitution can be said to be valid. The Constitution itself makes it abundantly clear that any law which runs contrary to it is deemed null and void to the extent of its inconsistency”, Barr. Briggs declared.
Sen. Aliyu Abdullahi, had on early November, introduced the Bill on the floor of the Senate.
The bill prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.
It seeks the establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches. The proposed commission is expected to enforce hate speech laws in 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.”
The bill also proposed 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 threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, commits an offence, if such person intends thereby to 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 an ethnic group in Nigeria”.