Senator Sabi Abdullahi

There comes a time in the life and times of a people when they must draw a line in the sands: between what they may permit and what they would not condone. Without any equivocation, the extremely divisive and impetuously insulting, controversy-laden ‘“Protection From Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill’, aka Hate Speech Bill, introduced to the public domain recently by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Sabi Abdullahi is one such insidious document that this nation must not condone today. We therefore oppose it completely.

Put in its square peg, one dictionary defines hate speech as ‘abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.’ While it is clear that such practices should be stridently discouraged, the heart of the matter is that as with many issues in the public domain, mere words of definition only tell half the story.

It is in this sense then that part of the crux of the subject at hand then would be finding a sensible and reasonably acceptable definition tor the term ‘hate speech.’

For us as a newspaper, the first challenge faced by the promoters of this bill at this time is the fact that it is akin to what the judges would describe in another context, as an abuse of the time of the court.’ How does a supposedly popularly elected serving senator see a nation with such an overpowering plethora of economic, political and social ills and then come out with a Hate Speech Bill as his most germane answer to the problems on ground?

Again, as part of arguments canvassed by the sponsor for the promotion of the bill are his uncorroborated claims that hate speech have led to the death of many people even as he in the same breath has also argued that the practice has remained a major factor behind depression and suicide in Nigeria.

In also trying to respond to the public response to his bill this far, he takes extremely untruthful liberties with the facts on ground in summing up that ‘Nigerians agree that we have a problem in the society today as a result of hate speech which has fueled so many killings and violence, and is responsible for cases of depression and suicides.”

Which Nigerians please and on what basis were these questionable deductions and obtusely self-serving conclusions arrived at? Is lawmaking now a whimsical exercise where conflated views and unsubstantiated statistics have now become the foreground for such an ordinarily weighty and honourable sphere of our national life?

In what philosophers would call a classical case of argumentum non-sequitor, Abdullahi imports hanging data from a World Health Organisation report which ranks Nigeria as being the continental leader in the ‘rate of depression’ and fifth in the world in terms of ‘frequency of suicide.’ Also quite silly and arcane is his accompanying proposal to saddle the nation with one more obtuse layer of bureaucracy in the form of a proposed Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech.

At a time when there is widespread agreement that the nation is presently saddled with a far too heavy and distended bureaucracy that bloats the personnel and recurrent expenditure components of our annual budget profiles, and with some even calling for the scrapping of at least one of the two lawmaking chambers in the land and the merger of states, it is really quite preposterous that a lawmaker is asking that one more layer of bureaucracy be added to the system! And with what would it be funded? Does this lawmaker live on Planet Mars?

But even beyond these, indeed, the first point would be to ask the lawmaker what he has done to curb issues related to ‘violence and the unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods of Nigerians’ as is today manifest in all kinds of failings from the Boko Haram insurgency, through the herdsmen attacks etc. With what bills would those be addressed?

There is also the additional matter of the alleged non-originality of the bill which the lawmaker has tried to deflect on the nebulous, crude and insipid logic that ‘everyone borrows!’ Even if we cut him some flak and say he has a point, we must also add: But not this shamelessly, sir!

In fact, things indeed get even more baffling when it is noted that the sponsor in question is a former Spokesman of the Senate, meaning that he was the sieve for much of the official decisions of the Senate at that point and as such was expected to do much better than the average lawmaker in correspondence terms. Now he has been elevated to the Whip’s office!

It is to ensure that such system processing failings are averted that countries like Singapore have some of their senior governmental operatives writing aptitude tests to determine if they are truly up to the demands of the job. And since it is from the same Singapore that our lawmaker ostensibly copied his bill, this indeed would be a better copying since it’s very clear ‘public good’ benefits are obvious to all.

Interestingly also, some of the drama that has since played out since the details of the bill got into the public space, and to very heroic condemnation from Nigerians across all plains, has led to the last ditch effort of the sponsor to exclude the invidious death penalty clause from the bill so as to reduce public recrimination. But it is one concession that is definitely too little too late. The people of Nigeria have literally in one accord voted to reject the bill and indeed the sponsor would be well advised to render a well-worded apology to the nation for this monumental abuse of our privilege as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria whose rights he has so perfidiously breached in this most ignominious affair.

For us at Business Hallmark, the Hate Speech Bill gets an unqualified Nay-Nay!