The decision of the Nigerian Senate to enact law on “Hate Speech” that will attract capital punishment is unfortunate.
Nobody dispute that benevolence can surely brings its own tyranny. Democracy is indeed testing that simple principle by unleashing freedom of speech in such horrendous scale that the new found technology helps to promote. But, shall we as Nation under the present democratic dispensation lend truth to fiction no matter how well it is disguised? Misinformation, hate speech are devises meant to gain some space but can not be favored by natural selection except in a society in a state of collapse. To debate the long term threat of hate speech to survival of democracy is to admit that the existing statutory laws, especially rose provided in our constitution have failed their efficacy test.
Democracy tells us that rather than fearing the unknown, or shrinking the world to our understanding, we can take shelter in the constitution and extent state institutions, such as police and the law courts. It also pre-supposes that political bad mouthing and name callings is nothing other than a manifestation of a steadfast commitment towards a more potential representation in delivery of democratic dividend. This so-called hate speech, slander and/or libelous remarks are not at all pointers to enmities, rather a wake up call to effective representation and good governance.
There exists to the best of my knowledge in our constitution laws provided to deal with such heinous social issues like “Slander” and “Libel”. People that feel injured through their commission can resort to our law courts to seek redress and damages arising from such injuries that may have been caused on their persons as well as their standards in the society. Why shall we now consider another law intended to provide remedies when that particular law subsists in our constitution?
Do you as David Hume believe that there is some floor beneath which justice can not be expected? To continue on “Hume’s Enquirer Concerning the Principle of Morals”, have we come to experience situations where grave problems of justice and moral choice arise among well meaning persons and their limitless needs becoming? What is the intended legislative justification of the National Assembly on this so-called hate speech? Is the Senate trying to appeal to the most powerful aspect of the principle of avoiding harm, battle against personal extinction?
One of the intriguing characteristics recently observed of our National Assembly is its insistence on expunging minority opinions, including those accepted as normative practice. This ethos has great impact on the development of the intellectual and cultural world of democracies. We are, through this model of free speech offered glimpses into alternative worlds of democratic practice. Through these so-called hate speeches, we are able to see with greater clarity the choices we made in the electoral offices and its subsequent disappointments in the service of the nation. We can perceive with greater insight not only that which has been gained by past electoral decisions, but also what has been lost.
Please take a moment to imagine what our democracy would be like if freedom of speech is not made imperative. It would be like the yester military governments where individuals rights to assembly and free speech were outlawed. When do legislative ends justify the means used to achieve them? This question is especially pertinent on legislative oversights. The very first law that the National Assembly articulates regarding corrupt practices is one that repudiates stolen mandates. The Electoral Act explains that using a stolen mandate is invalid because it constitutes a serious breach to democracy. It would seem that our Constitutional law brooks no compromise: When the path to freedom of speech is tainted by unnecessary legislations, our democracy is contaminated as well.
Some commentators like Mallam Kabir Yusuf suggested that it is specifically the functional nature of journalism that demands greater sensitivity to the purity of our democratic process. But regardless of why the Broadcasting Act or any other Act meant to regulate Social Media is not invoked more broadly, we should ask what deeper message it conveys in the cases where it does apply.
Fortunately, the Senators indulged our curiosity, offering only one parables to explain the intended legislation on hate speech. The question is “To what is one who is accused of hate speech comparable? To one who is slandered and it turned out to be a true reflection to name. To this people will say of him: “Woe to him whose defense attorney became his prosecutor!” So according to this view, the offense of hate speech is not against Government, but rather against victims of the hate speech in general.
The moral of this parable seems to be that hate speech must be treated with no less honesty or earnestness than the other commitments in our social lives. One who values their social responsibilities in the polity will ensure that the process by which they fulfill their social obligations is as pure as the final result.
Amb. M K Ilyasu
2nd December 2019