Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo(SAN), yesterday, disagreed over the proposed Hate Speech Bill. While PANDEF called on the National Assembly to thrash the bill in the interest of national peace, Keyamo threw his weight behind it.  Meanwhile, the Political Officer of the Embassy of the United States of America, Jerry Howard, yesterday, described the Hate Speech Bill before the National Assembly as an “impressive” piece of legislation needed to address issues of discrimination, hostility and violence in Nigeria. National President of the South-South regional group, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga(retd), who made the call in a statement, debunked reports that it called on President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the 13 percent derivation fund to the oil-producing states.

Nkanga said: “The bill, which prescribes capital punishment for anyone found guilty of hate speech or spreading falsehood that leads to the death of another person, is another attempt to gag citizens by taking away their rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Section 39 of 1999 Constitution. “The bill is also a gross violation of press freedom and presents a clear danger to the nation’s democracy. “While PANDEF recognises that fake news and related issues are global challenges, we strongly disagree with proponents of the bill that hanging of citizens, who express views considered offensive, is the answer to the nation’s problems.

“PANDEF considers the gravity the Senate is giving the so-called Hate Speech and Social Media Bills as disturbing, in the face of serious national challenges like the general infrastructure decay, particularly in the Niger Delta region, and dwindling political and social economy.”   …on 13% derivation Regarding the 13 percent derivation fund, he said insinuations that PANDEF called for a probe of the oil-producing states were “irresponsible and unreasonable.”

He asserted that at the group’s last retreat in Uyo, it supported a forensic audit by President Buhari and went ahead to ask that the names of the contractors within the period under review be made public. He said: “PANDEF did not, however, discuss the probe of 13 percent derivation funds and could not have done that being fully aware of the constitutional limits and powers of the President; more so, being at the forefront of the demand for restructuring of the country and enthronement of true federalism.” Keyamo’s stance However, Mr. Keyamo, while acknowledging the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution, stated that the rights are not absolute, contrary to the position of some Nigerians.

Reacting through his verified twitter handle @fkeyamo, the minister said: “Those so-called overnight social media activists, who oppose the Social Media Bill should first stop blocking those who irritate them with insults, unblock all those they have blocked and apologise to them. You can’t be intolerant and ask others to be. Practice what you preach.” In yet another tweet, the minister said: “The trick of the mischief-makers among us is that they are selling a romantic concept of absolute freedom to the gullible crowd. Even our dear Constitution guarantees no such thing.” Media reports misleading—US Speaking during a meeting with the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and sponsor of the Hate Speech Bill, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, at the National Assembly, Abuja, yesterday, the Political Officer of the Embassy of the United States of America, Jerry Howard, backed the bill.

According to him, the visit was intended to engage the sponsor of the Hate Speech bill and to seek an understanding into the proposed legislation under consideration by the Senate. Following explanations by Senator Sabi Abdullahi on the bill, Mr. Howard described the response of the media as “misleading” and “hysterical” of the contents of the bill and what it actually seeks to achieve. He, therefore, advised the sponsor of the bill to engage and educate non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations in the country on its proposed contents, so as to muster support for the bill.

Howard said: “We want Nigeria to succeed and we think a prerequisite for Nigeria’s success is successful democracy. “For democracy to succeed, the people must have a house, a place where their representatives can argue and complain, come up with new ideas and come up with solutions to guide the executive branch and lead the country forward. “I’m very impressed with the research you’ve done on the bill. The media has had a field day with this, really. “You’ve thought it through. I was depending on the media for my education, and it was very misleading. You’ve done your research and it is very interesting.”   The sponsor speaks Earlier, speaking on why he decided to introduce the bill, the lawmaker said: “Part of the reasons why violence takes place is attributable to discriminatory practices.

“It is discrimination that creates the socio-political imbalance that you see leading to a group feeling shortchanged and marginalised. “Discrimination is also another very serious matter why I sponsored the bill. This bill basically is about preventing discrimination and prohibiting people who incite violence.” Abdullahi further stated that the bill’s introduction by the National Assembly has the backing of Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.


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