The Senate yesterday said it would not force the controversial hate speech and anti-social media bills on Nigerians.
The upper chamber gave the promise as scores of protesters yesterday stormed the National Assembly demanding the immediate withdrawal of the bills aimed at regulating the social media and prescribing capital punishment for hate speech offenders.
One of the proposed laws titled “A Bill for an Act to make Provisions for the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations and for Related Matters, 2019,” sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa, representing Niger East, had scaled second reading in the Senate.
Also, the bill titled “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2019” sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, prescribed death by hanging for offenders. But Abdullahi had said that the clause that provided for death by hanging in the bill would be expunged before it is passed by the Senate.
The protesters also called for the release of activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, Abba Jalingo and other Nigerians who are currently being held by security agencies against valid court orders that granted them bail.The co-convener of the coalition, Henry Shield, told journalists that the aim of the protest was to express the group’s displeasure and its rejection of the two controversial bills.
According to Shield, there are existing laws in Nigeria which are appropriate for dealing with the issues the bills are meant to address.
Senators Uba Sani and Oseni Yakubu who addressed the protesters on behalf of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said that the bills would not be passed if they were rejected by Nigerians during the public hearing.
Sani, who represents Kaduna Central, said: “We have heard your agitation. We believe it is a very important agitation. Some of us in the chamber have also been involved in the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in the country.“The two bills in question were introduced by some of our colleagues. Some of us in the National Assembly, including the Senate president, would appear at the public hearing. Whatever Nigerians want is what the 9th Senate would do.
“The law is not about the 109 senators. It is about Nigerians. Democracy is about free speech, it is about the rule of law. That is why their voices are extremely important. That is why we believe that your agitation is valid and also in the best interest of our own country. We are going to certainly work with you on the day of the public hearing. I can assure you we are going to do whatever is in the best interest of our country.
“We are aware of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act and some of us are on the same page with these agitations. We are not guided by any political affiliation. We are guided by the law and concerned about the progress of our country.”Yakubu, who represents Kogi Central, said: “I want to assure you that the 9th Senate is not in any way an appendage of the executive.“No single bill will pass without public hearing. We are here to make laws for Nigerians, not Senate. We are all here to protect the interests of Nigerians.”
A reporter of Roots Television, Tosin Busayo, was allegedly assaulted by a policeman yesterday during the protest at the gate of the National Assembly. The security agent also seized Busayo’s camera, accusing the journalist of filming another police officer who was preventing protesters from gaining entrance into the complex. It took a protest by other reporters before the policeman released the camera to the reporter.
In Lagos, scores of protesters also stormed the House of Assembly to protest against the anti-social media bill and anti-hate speech bill.The protesters, who were peaceful in their conduct, urged the Lagos State House of Assembly to prevail on the Federal Government to shun the bills.
Jerry king Nwobodo, leader of the protesters, said: “We are protesting against the two bills that we consider a means to steal our freedom of expression. The protest is actually going on in some states, in their house of assemblies. There is actually a section that deals with libel and slander, which makes us to think we don’t need these two bills.
“We are also using this medium to reach out to the Federal Government against the unlawful detention of Omoyele Sowore. “We are protesting against these bills because we see them as tyrannical and undemocratic. Why should they bring two bills to address the same issue while we have the law of libel that already treats that?”
A member of the House, Adebisi Yusuf, who spoke on behalf of the Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, said: “We can’t deprive you of your right as you can say anything you want because we consider it as part of freedom of speech. We have listened to your appeals. As you know, we don’t have power over the bills. We will send your appeals and grievances to Abuja and I hope they will listen.”
Also, a former Minister of Education and co-founder of #BringBackOurGirls Movement, Obiageli Ezekwesili, called on Nigerian women, especially those in political offices and women groups, to raise their voices against the passage of the hate speech bill.
At a national women’s dialogue tagged ‘WOMANIFESTO2019: what the Nigerian women want’ held in Abuja yesterday, Ezekwesili described the bill as anti-people which seeks to stifle the voice of Nigerians especially women so that they cannot make their voices heard in the face of women marginalisation particularly in politics.