Head of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, Dr Edith Ugochi Ohaja, has described the proposed bill seeking to place death penalty on anyone convicted of hate speech as a time bomb on the journalism profession in Nigeria.
Ohaja said she could not believe that the National Assembly is deliberating on a bill that provides for capital punishment for the expression of opinions, and described it as a total misplacement of priorities.
It was reported that Senator Sabi Abdullahi representing Niger North Senatorial district on Tuesday sponsored a private bill to tackle hate speeches and other social media related contents, considered antagonistic to the interest of Nigerian society.
The lawmaker, who was Senate Spokesman in the 8th Senate and now Deputy Chief Whip, wants the National Assembly to establish a Commission with administrative structures to deal with hate speeches in Nigeria.
The bill titled: “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Est., etc) bill, 2019 (SB. 154)” passed its first reading on Tuesday.
However, speaking with journalists in an interview in Aba on Wednesday, Ohaja challenged journalists in Nigeria to rise to the occasion and prove that the ever vibrant Nigerian Mass Media that stood firm during the Gen. Sani Abacha-led military regime is still alive to defend justice, truth and human rights.
She said: “This is a country where rampaging herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists seem to be treated with kid gloves. One would have called this a misplacement of priorities if the move wasn’t so sinister and it speaks to the baseness of the current National Assembly. By reviving this bill and seeking to set up a whole agency for so-called hate speech, the government is no longer hiding its dictatorial inclinations.
“Besides the social media, blogs and citizen journalism websites, the traditional media remain the platforms for publicising people’s expressions of opinions and helping them to gain traction. So they will be prime targets or those whose views are publicised in them will be.
“I don’t know the full provisions of the bill but I imagine there will be punitive fines against corporate bodies, like the media, that are seen as fora for the dissemination of “hate speech. The sad thing in Nigeria is that the media have not been robust enough in withstanding the tyranny of the present regime. Perhaps, the revival of this bill will serve as a wakeup call to them that the government is trampling on everyone’s rights and eroding freedom of the press.
“In fact, this might be the time for the media to redeem their image by championing the resistance against this kind of move and other obnoxious policies of this government. In the time of Abacha, they did it. Hopefully the recent years of questionable democracy have not turned them into a hopelessly complacent and conniving lot.”
Ohaja continued, “The level of ineptitude, sectionalism and other multifarious failings of the government are constantly drawing public ire and that is why the government is desperate to muzzle free expression of ideas and opinions.
“And the hypocrisy is glaring because it is the executive arm of government and the judiciary it has kept under its thumb that will decide what is hate speech and who to prosecute. Nigerians from all walks of life and all levels of society should resist the passage of this bill because it will kill what is left of our fledgling democracy.”
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