The Federal Government has responded to the proposed Hate Speech Bill by the Senate saying the existing Cybercrime Act (2015) is enough to handle purveyors of hate speech.
The Hate Speech Bill, sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi, prescribes death by hanging for violators. It passed its first reading after Nelson Ayewoh, clerk of the senate read the title of the bill on Tuesday.
Abdullahi, first sponsored the Bill in the eighth assembly, but the bill did not make it through to third reading. Its reintroduction had attracted lots of criticism from lawyers, academics, civil rights groups, journalists, and Nigerians who see it as an attempt to gag the media and infringe on the freedom of speech of citizens.
Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, who was responding to a question directed to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed at the end of Federal Executive Council (FEC), yesterday, said Nigerians were jumping the gun by drawing conclusions on a Bill that was yet to become a law.
Said Saraki: “It is a bill, it’s not yet a law. So the sponsor of the bill might put the death penalty there. I think we are jumping the gun a bit, he is proposing the bill, it is not yet an Act.
“Be that as it may, I think the Cybercrime Act is a law already in Nigeria. The Cybercrime Act has the hate speech aspect in it.
“I am not privileged to know the sponsor of the particular bill,but there is a law, I stand to be corrected, I think it was passed 2014/2015; I am not particularly sure. But that law that takes care of (hate speech) because cybercrime is now a major issue. Internationally, everybody is concerned about it being the new frontier to fight crime. So, hate speech is within that cybercrime aspect.”
But the Senate, yesterday, begged Nigerians to be patient following the uproar that that greeted the proposed Bill which is seen as “obnoxious” by many.
Acting spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki, said the Bill was meant to protect the interest of Nigerians.
“We are working for the progress and betterment of Nigerians. I want to urge Nigerians to exercise patience with me and the senate because it is not wise for me nor legally right for me to discuss a Bill that has not been mentioned for the second time on the floor of the senate.
“We have a process of enacting a law or an Act in the National Assembly or in the state Assembly.
“The process starts with the first reading, when the Leader of the Senate will read it for the first time.
“The second reading is taken after the Bill has been subjected to debate on the floor of the Senate. Once a Bill scales second reading, it has to go to the committee and would return to the House again,” Akwashiki said.
He explained that if the Bill would represent the wishes and interest of Nigerians, it would certainly scale second reading.