Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami and some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on Monday disagreed on the desirability or otherwise of the Hate Speech and Social Media Bills pending before the Senate.
While Malami backed the introduction and passage of both Bills, the CSOs, including Amnesty International (AI), Connected Development (CODE), former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Professor Chidi Odinkalu and others urged the sponsors to immediate withdraw the Bills from the parliament.
Malami spoke at the opening session of the African Independent Television (AIT) town hall meeting in Abuja.
The minister noted that the media played a prominent role in the attainment of independence, advancement of democracy and good governance “through the fight against corruption and upholding the rule of law in line with Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution”.
He stressed that there must be adequate legal mechanisms to curb the excesses of those he called “purveyors of fake news”.
Malami, who was represented by his Special Adviser (SA) on Media and Publicity, Dr. Umar Gwandu, said: “Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy that guarantees freedom of expression, thereby providin
g conducive atmosphere and veritable platforms that give Nigerians their inalienable fundamental rights to unhindered ventilation of opinions.
AI’s Country Director Osai Ojigho said Nigerians were suspicious of the Bills as they could be used by unscrupulous persons in government to stifle the freedom of speech and other inalienable rights.
CODE’s Hamzat Lawal said: “Nigeria is a country without consequences. That is why lawmakers elected by the people can introduce Bills to gag the people.”
Odinkalu noted that two sponsors of the Bills represent Niger State in the Senate.
He expressed concern that the two senators did not appear bothered about the insecurity in their state but the need to curtail Nigerians’ outspokenness.
Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) National President Chris Iziguzo told reporters that the two Bills were anti-people, anti-freedom of speech and against the mass media.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who was the special guest of honour at the event, said: “We are here today because of some of these challenges, which are hate speech and fake news. Added to these is the extent to which government should intervene. Important also is the need to come to an understanding on the best approach at finding a way forward.