Opponents of the controversial Hate Speech Bill won a battle on Sunday.
Bill’s sponsor, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, hinted of the removal of the death penalty clause.
Deputy Chief Whip Abdullahi assured Nigerians that there would be no death penalty, “when the bill is subjected to legislative input at the National Assembly.”
The controversial bill passed first reading on November 12.
Abdullahi (Niger North), said the bill would undergo some fine-tuning to ensure that the clauses contained in its provisions reflected Nigerians’ views.
He added that the Senate welcomed contributions and input by critics and supporters of the bill, as these would go a long way towards giving Nigerians the much awaited law that would address the disturbing trend of hate speech.
According to him, hate speech had led to the death of many and a major factor behind depression and suicide.
He said: “We have followed closely arguments for and against the hate speech bill, and seen the reason why some people kicked against it.
“Given the high respect which we have for Nigerians, we will make amendment to the death penalty aspect that most Nigerians objected to, so that a bill that meets their expectations is passed into law.
“Clearly from the conversations, 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.”
Citing a World Health Organisation (WHO)’s report, Abdullahi said Nigeria, which is the 17th largest country in the world, “has Africa’s highest rate of depression and ranks fifth in the world’s frequency of suicide rate.”
The lawmaker explained that the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to be established would guard against every act of discrimination against Nigerians by way of victimisation.
The commission, according to him, will have an executive chairperson, a secretary and 12 commissioners appointed through rigorous process involving the National Council of State, the President and the National Assembly.
Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa kicked against the death penalty clause in the bill.
Repudiating the clause during the 2019 General Harvest at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Anglican Communion, Abuja, the governor stressed that the whole world was moving away from capital punishment as a penalty for an offence.
He noted that it would not be right for the country to resort to death penalty at this time and age.
Okowa said: “I condemn hate speech in totality but we shouldn’t be moving in that direction; it is not the right part, more so, when people could misjudge the intentions of whosoever is making a speech.
“We may not know who will be the determinant at the end of the day and what will constitute the entirety of the hate speech.
“So, you may just find innocent souls dying for nothing and this are souls created by God and not by man.”
Also condemning the death penalty clause, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, the Anglican Primate of Nigeria, warned that the proponents of the bill could also be a victim.
According to him, “nobody stays in power forever; the fact that you are in power today, doesn’t mean you will stay in power forever.
“We should not make laws to spite the people. Law is a social science that should organise the society and not to destroy the society.”
Retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police Chris Ezike urged Nigerians to put the interest of the country first before personal interests.
Ezike said: “Nigeria was not created this way. We must do the right things hoping that tomorrow will be better.
“The duty of putting this country on the right trajectory is the duty of all of us; government, parents, faith-based organisations etc; we all have roles to play.
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