Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana has reacted to comments made by the Nigerian military that they were monitoring social media to check for hate speech purportedly based on a directive from President Muhammadu Buhari, by stating that it was unlawful for the military to arrest alleged perpetrators of ‘subversive activities’ and hate speech in the country.
In a statement he issued on Saturday, Falana said that only the Nigerian police force was empowered to execute such a directive in line with their responsibility of maintaining law and order.
He also called on President Buhari to respect the rights of those seeking the negotiation of Nigeria’s unity “within the ambits of the law”.
Falana said, “While the federal government is entitled to continue to defend the corporate existence of Nigeria, the right of any group to disagree with the official stand within the ambit of the law should be respected.
“Therefore, the purported presidential directive authorizing armed soldiers to arrest civilians involved in ‘subversive activities’ should be withdrawn. More so, that it cannot be justified under any law in Nigeria.
“Since it is the constitutional responsibility of the police to maintain law and order in our democratic society, members of the armed forces should not be permitted to arrest alleged purveyors of hate speeches.
“For the avoidance of doubt, section 4 of the Police Act has empowered the Nigeria Police Force to arrest and prosecute criminal suspects in the country.
“However, section 47 (1) of the Cyber Crimes (prohibition, prevention etc) Act provides that law enforcement agencies shall have power to prosecute offences under this act while section 58 thereof defines law enforcement agencies to include ‘any agency for the time being responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of this act.’
“As the Nigerian Army is not one of the law enforcement agencies envisaged by the Act and other penal laws it should not be permitted to enforce any of the laws against hate speeches”.
Falana also noted that what Nigeria needed was for the government to exhibit the political will to enforce already existing laws targeted at dealing with hate speech rather than seeking to establish new ones.
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