Bill labels hate speech an electoral crime and recommends imprisonment

A bill seeking to establish a National Electoral Offenses Commission, which is being considered by the National Assembly, has proposed to classify hate speech as an electoral offense that can carry a 10-year prison sentence or a 40 millions of N or both.

The House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Affairs held a public hearing on the “Bill to establish the National Commission on Electoral Offenses and Related Matters 2022” in Abuja on Tuesday.

In Part IV of the Bill, entitled “Electoral Offences”, Clause 32, which includes an explanatory note “Prohibition of hate speech”, criminalises speech that may provoke violence.

The clause reads: “(1) A person who, in the course of politics or elections, uses or directs the use of threatening words, behavior or actions, or displays or directs the display of any written material that threatens or incites violence, is guilty of an offense if: (a) intends thereby to provoke ethnic, religious or racial hatred, social or political insecurity or violence against any person or group of persons ; or (b) having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic, religious or racial hatred or insecurity or social or political violence is likely to arise.

“Provided that nothing in this subclause shall be read or given effect so as to prohibit or restrict discussion, criticism, or expressions of dislike, distaste, ridicule, insult, or abuse of particular beliefs or practices of its adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its followers, or proselytizing or urging followers of a different belief system to stop practicing their belief system.

“Subjective descriptions of a person’s actions or behavior, no matter how disgusting, rude or objectionable, cannot be considered an attempt to spread hatred unless the motive is clearly defined as such.

“(2) Any person who commits an offense under sub-clause (1) of this clause shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine not exceeding N40,000,000 or to both “.

INEC, IPAC support

At the public hearing, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Inter-Party Advisory Committee, among others, supported the bill, but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission opposed it.

The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in his remarks, urged the National Assembly to go one step further with the establishment of a court dedicated to electoral crimes.

The National Chairman of IPAC, Yabagi Sani, in his presentation, noted that INEC and security agencies lack the capacity to prosecute electoral crimes.

Sani said: “We welcome the development because we believe it will make a very organized space without impunity as we have observed today. And henceforth, Nigeria will be respected in the courtesy of nations. We are ready to cooperate and ensure that this law properly applied.”

However, the EFCC expressed its opposition to the proposal in a presentation made by its Deputy Commander, Deborah Ademu-Eteh.

The anti-corruption agency noted that these offenses are offenses that the Nigeria Police Force, Federal Ministry of Justice, EFCC, ICPC and INEC (under Section 145 of the Electoral Act 2022) “are empowered by our existing laws to investigate and prosecute”.

Gbajabiamila speaks

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, while declaring the hearing open, said that while the lawmakers recognize that even the recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states marked a milestone in the evolution democracy in Nigeria, “there is no doubt that many There is still work to be done to bring the country to the point where elections are devoid of the usual challenges of violence, fraud and abuse of process.”

Gbajabiamila, who was represented by Vice President Ahmed Wase, noted that a review of the past elections showed the need for the National Assembly to take the necessary legislative measures to address the challenges identified and plug the gaps encountered in the conduct of the elections.

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