The senator sponsoring the controversial hate speech bill, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, has described opponents of the bill as ignorant of the inherent dangers should the lawmakers fail to pass the bill into law.
Abdullahi, who is the deputy chief whip of the Senate, stated this in a statement on Sunday.
According to him, “the opponents are only pretending to protect ‘Freedom of Speech’ by misinforming Nigerians on the intent of the legislation before the National Assembly.”
The lawmaker, therefore, warned Nigerians to beware of “false information being spilled out by some persons and groups parading themselves as serving the interest of the nation”.
Citing a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on ‘Overcoming dangerous speech and endemic religious divides in central Nigeria’, Senator Abdullahi said persons with strong bias capable of escalating ethnic and religious violence were infiltrating the media.
He said such persons and groups were opposed to the passage of a hate speech law by the National Assembly as same would put an end to their trade that depends on using ethnic and religious bias for the realization of self-serving interests.
“Both Christians and Muslims have said that the media blatantly expresses bias against their religion, and that journalists will deliberately not report their story or perspective.
“Outside the immediate communities affected by a specific incident, the general public’s understanding of violent events is often incomplete.
“In some cases, false news about attacks have incited the people to undertake revenge attacks in various parts of the country,” the lawmaker quoted the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report as saying,” the senator said.
Abdullahi also cited another report by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), saying that there were strong indicators making it imperative for the introduction of legislation by the National Assembly to criminalize hate speech which is responsible for high cases of violence and killing.
He quoted some portions of the CITAD report to read: “In 2017, Nigeria experienced the continuation of three major conflicts that provided a fertile ground for the propagation of hate speech.
“These were the resurgence of the Biafra Agitation in the South East, the clash between the Army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, popularly referred to as the Shiites Movement in the North West, and the transformation of the localized farmers-herders conflict and cattle rustling to the large scale rural banditry that had taken an ethno-religious character across much of the North West and North Central zones of the country.”
“Across the country, scores of people were killed as a result of these conflicts, further providing fuel for the wildfire of hate speech.
“More than at any time in the recent history of the country, hate speech became widely used in public discourse and communication.
“They fueled a dynamic that weakened national cohesion and made it difficult for the country to collectively address the threat to peace that affected the population in the country.”
Many Nigerians have condemned the bill with the argument that it was a ploy to stifle the freedom of speech in the country.
But Abdullahi and those in support of the bill have continued to give reasons why the bill is necessary. One such reason is that it would help address issues of violence in the country.
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