The Political Affairs Officer of the United States of America, Jerry Howard has described the controversial hate speech bill as an “impressive piece of legislation needed to address issues of discrimination, hostility and violence in Nigeria.”
Howard stated this during a meeting with the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and sponsor of the Hate Speech bill, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, at the National Assembly in Abuja, on Tuesday, December 3, 2019.
A statement from the senator’s media office, quoted Jerry Howard as saying he is impressed with the level of work done on the bill seeking to curb hate speech in the country.
Mr Howard said his visit was intended to engage Senator Abdullahi and to seek an understanding of the proposed legislation under consideration by the Senate.
Following explanations by Senator Abdullahi on the bill, Mr. Howard described the response of the media as “misleading” and “hysterical,” compared to what it actually seeks to achieve. 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, the people must have 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 US envoy, 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 it.
“You’ll need to talk to NGOs,CSOs, you need to educate them. You’ve educated me,” he added.
Abdullahi said the bill, will among other things, address discriminatory practices which is “part of the reasons why violence takes place” in the country.
“It is discrimination that creates the socio-political imbalance that you see leading to a group feeling shortchanged and marginalised,” he said.
“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.”
The bill was widely criticised when it was introduced particularly over the provision that recommends death penalty for anyone found guilty of hate speech that caused another’s death.
But the senator later said that provision would be amended.