The Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, on Thursday said existing laws on defamation and libel are grossly inadequate to tackle hate speech in its form.
He stated this against the backdrop of criticism and reactions to the introduction of the Hate Speech Bill by the National Assembly.
Senator Abdullahi who represents Niger North Senatorial District in the National Assembly explained that parliaments across the world have identified hate speech as a new “threat that dehumanises and targets individuals and groups, and also threatens peace in a diversified society.”
He stated that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is a 47-nation member organisation, in a report identified threats posed by hate speech to include exclusion among minority groups, alienation, marginalisation, emergence of parallel societies, and ultimately radicalisation.
The lawmaker warned that these were present features in the socio-dynamics of Nigeria as a nation and have placed the country on the brink of implosion from the effect of hate speech.
“The provisions of defamation and libel laws in Nigeria clearly lack the grip to tackle the dimensions of hate speech in acts such as victimisation, marginalisation, and exclusion,” he said in a statement.
Senator Abdullahi added that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in its resolutions contained in a publication entitled ‘The Role and Responsibilities of Political Leaders in Combating Hate Speech and Intolerance’, endorsed criminal legislation to prohibit and sanction hate speech.
The publication, according to him, read in part, “The Assembly believes that a wide range of measures is necessary to counter hate speech, ranging from self-regulation, particularly by political movements and parties, and in the statutes and rules of procedure of national and local elected bodies, to civil, administrative and criminal legislation prohibiting and sanctioning its use.”
Citing countries such as Germany and France, the lawmaker stated that the parliaments of both countries passed a landmark law in 2018 and 2019 respectively to fight online hate speech.
According to him, these and many other countries all have defamation and libel laws but have introduced legislation to tackle hate speech as a specific threat.
“Hate Speech bill is about prohibiting incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence,” Senator Abdullahi stressed.
He explained that the new legislation passed by France and Germany compelled all social media networks to remove offending content as well as create buttons to enable users to flag cases of abuse.
In a related development, the lawmaker lauded the position of the United Nations on the introduction of the Hate Speech Bill without a death penalty by the National Assembly.
“I must commend the United Nations for its position on the Hate Speech bill without the death penalty.
“It goes to show that they understand the gravity of the problems and threats face by Nigeria as a united entity, and which the National Assembly is taking proactive measures to address with this bill,” he said.