Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar says the new bill to criminalise hate speech is backed by “those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the former presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the bill breaches Nigerians’ right to freedom of information.
The senate had reintroduced the bill seeking to establish a commission for the prohibition hate speech in the country on Tuesday.
The proposed legislation, which has passed first reading, comes a week after the upper legislative chamber introduced a bill to regulate social media.
In a statement from Paul Ibe, his spokesman, Atiku urged lawmakers to channel their energy to seeking solutions to Nigeria’s numerous challenges rather than “this Bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious.”
“The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech,” he said in the statement.
“Atiku urges those behind this Bill to awake to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation, because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms.
“It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.”
He said freedom of speech is not only guaranteed by Nigeria’s constitution but is also “a divine right given to all men by their Creator.”
He added that Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns including being the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as “the global epicentre of out-of-school children.”
“Again, Atiku cautions that we must prioritise our challenges ahead of the whims and caprices of those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth. Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians,” the statement added.