Nigeria spreads net against hate speech as 2019 election campaigns begin

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By Olusegun Oruame

As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday officially lifted the ban on campaign for 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, Nigerian security authorities are on the lookout for what inside sources call “hate mongers and high security risk individuals.”

Presidential and National Assembly elections are to hold February 16, 2019.

IT Edge News learnt at the weekend that all security agencies are to monitor social media with a view to arrest “perpetrators of offending posts and criminal rumours or false images, videos meant to cause mass fear or incite riots,”  Offenders are to be prosecuted under the Terrorism Act of 2011 and the Cybercrime Act of 2015.

Authorities are seeking the cooperation of telecom operators and Over the top (OTT) providers to checkmate ‘online hate mongers,’ it was learnt. OTT include Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and the likes.

A ‘special and dedicated synergy’ has been set up between security agencies and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to accelerate prosecution of offenders and set examples that government means business, said a senior official who should know in Abuja.

Months back, the military said it was already monitoring the activities of Nigerians on the social media for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information that could injure national interest.

The federal government has also warned severally through pronouncements by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, that it would prosecute those who indulge in the practice of hate speech in accordance with the 2011 Terrorism Act.

With political campaigns starting to go into full swing, government is worried that politicians and their supporters could stir violence and further cause dangerous strictures in a country battling with Islamic insurgents and ethnic militias.

Meanwhile President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday asked politicians to campaign peacefully with the country’s best interest in mind. The president spoke while he kicked off his campaign for re-election with the launch of a “campaign manual/next level document” at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja over the weekend.

His words: I will implore candidates to go about the campaigns peacefully and decently. We have no other country than Nigeria, let us not set it ablaze because of politics.”

A new bill sponsored at the Senate chamber earlier this year generated controversy as being draconian. The bill wants death sentence for hate speech and also seeks the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’ to enforce hate speech laws across the country, ensure the elimination of the menace and advise the federal government.

But opponents ruled that the bill was totally unnecessary. They argued that both the Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention ETC) Act, 2015 and 2011 Terrorism Act adequately addressed the crime of hate speech.

Some legal experts have also argued that the country’s older law still operational adequately address the challenges posed by abuse of social media. Applying the full weight of the law is the biggest challenge said one expert in Lagos.

Notable lawyer, Femi Falana said “offences which include criminal defamation, inciting statements, breach of the peace, criminal intimidation, publication of statement, rumour or report which may disturb public peace, false publication etc attract penalties by  imprisonment or payment of fines under sections 59-60, 373-381 of the Criminal Code (applicable in the southern states) and sections 391-40, 417-418 of the Penal Code (applicable in the northern states).

In addition, section 95 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended has provisions ruling against political campaigns or slogans tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings.

Offenders can be prosecuted under these laws. “What government is doing as the campaigns start is to apply these laws to the fullest,” said the official in Abuja.

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