Aliyu Abdullahi, deputy chief whip of the senate, says opponents of the “hate speech bill” are ignorant of the dangers that loom if it is not passed into law.
Many Nigerians have kicked against the bill, describing it as a threat to their fundamental rights.
But in a statement on Sunday, Abdullahi, who is the sponsor of the bill, said its opponents are only pretending to protect freedom of speech.
He asked people to beware of “false information being spilled out by some persons and groups parading themselves as serving the interest of the nation”.
Citing a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on “Overcoming Dangerous Speech and Endemic Religious Divides in Central Nigeria”, Abdullahi said persons with strong bias capable of escalating ethnic and religious violence are infiltrating the media.
He said such persons and groups are opposed to the passage of “hate speech” law by the national assembly would put an end to their trade.
“Both Christians and Muslims have said that the media blatantly expresses bias against their religion, and that journalists will deliberately not report their story or perspective,” he said.
“Outside the immediate communities affected by a specific incident, the general public’s understanding of violent events is often incomplete.
“In some cases, false news about attacks have incited the people to undertake revenge attacks in various parts of the country.”
Abdullahi, who cited another report by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), said there are strong indicators making it imperative for the introduction of legislation by the national assembly to criminalise hate speech which is “responsible for high cases of violence and killing”.
Making specific reference to the CITAD report, Abdullahi said: “In 2017, Nigeria experienced the continuation of three major conflicts that provided a fertile ground for the propagation of hate speech.
“These were the resurgence of the Biafra Agitation in the South East, the clash between the Army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, popularly referred to as the Shiites Movement in the North West, and the transformation of the localized farmers-herders conflict and cattle rustling to the large scale rural banditry that had taken an ethno-religious character across much of the North West and North Central zones of the country.
“Across the country, scores of people were killed as a result of these conflicts, further providing fuel for the wildfire of hate speech.
“More than at any time in the recent history of the country, hate speech became widely used in public discourse and communication.
“They fueled a dynamic that weakened national cohesion and made it difficult for the country to collectively address the threat to peace that affected the population in the country.”
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