The Anti-Hate Speech bill stipulates that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech resulting in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction and also proposed a jail term not less than five years or a fine of not less than N10 million, or both for harassment on ethnic grounds or racial contempt.
Some lawyers, including Chief Sebastine Hon and Kayode Ajulo, expressed concerns over what they described as extreme punishment for offenders.
Hon contended that capital punishment is highhanded. He observed that in line with the provisions of the penal and criminal codes of other countries, death penalty, as proposed by the National Assembly, should be opposed by all Nigerians.
He said: “I do not, with respect, support the anti-hate speech Bill recently passed by the National Assembly, especially the punishment proposed for offenders. Stipulating capital punishment for hate speech is, with respect, extremely harsh and highhanded.
“A close look at the provisions of the penal and criminal codes of other countries will show without doubt that death penalty, as proposed by the National Assembly of Nigeria, is excessive and should not be tolerated.”
Citing examples, Hon said: “In Germany, the criminal code stipulates a maximum prison term of five years for offenders, while in Iceland; the maximum sentence is two years.
“In Netherlands, the Dutch criminal code, in section 137c and 137d stipulates a jail term of not more than one year, while in Canada, the punishments, depending on the category, range from six months to two years and then, five years.
“In Bosnia, the maximum sentence is five years, as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights in the recent case of Smajic vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (2018) ECHR (Application No. 48657/16).
“In England and Wales, the Public Order Act, 1986, as amended several times by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006 and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008, stipulate a punishment not exceeding seven years.”
While advising the suspension of the Bill or refusal by the President to assent to it, Hon stressed that since power is transient, “anything which could compromise freedom of speech and other forms of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms must be vigorously avoided and or resisted.”
In his response, constitutional lawyer and former Secretary, Labour Party, Ajulo, said: “The term ‘freedom of expression’ is sometimes used interchangeably, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, enshrines this right in its Section 39(1), which provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by Nigeria, provides that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”