Nigeria’s former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has cautioned the National Assembly against stifling freedom of speech with its proposed hate speech bill.
The legislative arm is in the process of passing the bill, sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), into law.
There have been reservations by various Nigerians on how the bill can potentially stifle freedom of expression in the country.
Atiku, a PDP candidate in the 2019 presidential election, said the contemplation of such a law is an abuse of the legislative process.
He said this in a statement by his media aide, Paul Ibe.
He said: “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.
“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.
“Freedom of speech was not just bestowed to Nigerians by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is also a divine right given to all men by their creator. History is littered with the very negative unintended consequences that result when this God-given right is obstructed by those who seek to intimidate the people rather than accommodate them.
“We should be reminded that history does not repeat itself. Rather, men repeat history. And often, to disastrous consequences.
“Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns. We are now the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as the global epicentre of out-of-schoolchildren. Our economy is smaller than it was in 2015, while our population is one of the world’s fastest-growing. We have retrogressed in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, from the position we held four years ago, and our Human Development Indexes are abysmally low.
“It, therefore, begs the question: should we not rather make laws to tackle these pressing domestic challenges, instead of this bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious? Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians.”