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Is hate speech bill 2019 an indictment of National Orientation Agency?

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The bill which seeks to enact an Act of the National Assembly titled “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment) Bill, 2019” (“Hate Speeches Bill”) scaled first reading on the floor of the Senate of National Assembly on November 12, 2019 and since then many Nigerians have firmly deprecated the Senate’s attempt to foist such an unjust law on Nigerians. The Guardian of November 13 reports that the Hate Speeches Bill carries an ultimate death penalty, which is “the most severe punishment provided by the bill’ which ‘defines hate speech as a comment that insults people for their religion, ethnic and linguistic affiliation, among others.”

We searched for a soft copy of Hate Speeches Bill online and particularly on National Assembly’s (NASS) Portal without success. NASS, by not publishing a copy of the Hate Speeches Bill on its portal, is violating its duties under Freedom of Information Act 2011 to circulate in print and electronic form, online as well as on its social media handles all information relating to its activities, operations and, businesses including details of votes on all bills.

The Hate Speeches Bill is a clear yet misdirected indictment on the National Orientation Agency (NOA) established by the National Orientation Agency Act of 1993 (the “Act”) which is organized as a parastatal under Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. It is to be noted that the Act requires the Chairman of the Board, who is appointed by the President, to be a “retired practitioner in education or law or media or general management and administration” and, he must be of proven integrity, ability and character while the Director-General must “be an experienced and tested administrator, non-partisan with a wide knowledge of Nigeria, her people and culture”.

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Hate Speeches, which is condemnable social defect is very prevalent among Nigerians including public officer holders – it is, arguably, a reflection of our historical and human development. Criminalization in the manner proposed by the Senate may be counter-productive, rather, existing ministries departments governments and agencies particularly the NOA should be assisted to realize all its functions and objectives for the wholesome development of our Nation.

Other members of the overpopulated Board of NOA include more than 13 representatives of National Council of Women Societies; Labour Congress; Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association; Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture; Nigerian Universities; CAN; Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs; NBA; Federal Ministries of Information and Culture and, Education; BON; NUJ; Nigerian Institute for Cultural Orientation; the Director-General and; other (unspecified) members to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Information.

Interestingly, the NOA’s functions and objectives under the Act, if implemented – 26 years after – would assist Nigerians to acquire social skills or habits needed for mutual co-existence instead of the Senate’s arbitrary criminalization of otherwise tolerable social defects inherent in any peoples journeying towards Nationhood.

The Act provides over 13 functions of NOA, which include to:
enlighten, mobilize favourable public opinion and, support the general public on Federal Government policies, and activities;
collate, analyze and provide a source of feedback from the public to the Federal Government on its policies, programmes and activities;
establish social institutions and framework to deliberately expose Nigerians to democratic norms and values for virtue, peaceful, united, progressive and disciplined society;
energize the conscience of all Nigerians to their rights and privileges, responsibilities and obligations as citizens;
propagate and promote the spirit of dignity of labour, honesty and commitment to production, promotion and consumption of home-produced commodities and services;
re-orientate Nigerians to shed their general attitudes to wastage, variety and pretences of affluence in their lifestyles;
orientate Nigerians about power, its use and the proper role of the Federal Government in serving their collective interest; propagate the need to eschew all vices in public life including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractice, ethnic, parochial and religious bigotry; propagate virtue of hard work, honesty, loyalty, self-reliance, commitment to and promotion of national integration;
mobilize Nigerians for positive patriotic participation in and identification with national affairs and issues and;
sensitize, induct and equip Nigerians to fight against all forms of internal and external domination of resources by a few individuals or groups.

Objectives of NOA include to establish appropriate national framework for educating, orientating and indoctrinating Nigerians towards developing socially desirable attitudes, values and culture; encourage Nigerians to actively and freely take part in discussions and decisions affecting their general welfare; develop among Nigerians social and cultural values and awareness which will inculcate the spirit of patriotism, nationalism, self-discipline and self-reliance; restore and sustain discipline in Nigerians’ national life; foster respect for constituted authority and; to encourage informal education through public enlightenment activities and publications.

Mutual respect, modesty, civility, affability and, courtesy are “socially desirable attitudes, values and culture” which NOA ought to have inculcated in Nigerians. Hate Speeches bill is an attempt to bound freedom of expression in major fronts – an unjust law is no law and includes any legislation on any area of human interaction which legislators have no rights to legislate upon. Senate should instead strengthen NOA to achieve its functions and objectives for our benefits and perhaps amend the Act and also reduce number of persons on NOA’s overpopulated board.

Historically, NOA was prior to 1993 known as Mass Mobilization for Social and Economic Recovery (MAMSER), a name more relevant to our National needs. MAMSER was very effective – perhaps more in terms of funding – at Federal, State and Local Government levels. A culture of wasting material resources will snowball into a culture of wasting human lives, this is an avoidable end for Nigerians, which government has a difficult duty to prevent and NOA is its veritable instrument.

Countries are enjoined to move away from death penalties in view of absoluteness of right to life, any arm of Government willing to criminalize and impose death penalty for hate speeches (social defects) obviously undervalues the lives of its citizens and citizens will in turn not value the lives of their compatriots. No legislator can impose what due effort and modesty can inculcate in its people. Here, one finds the culture of undue expectation of miracles amongst us on the floor of National Assembly, namely, that Hate Speeches bill will wish away the social questions.

The Guardian of November 13, 2019 attributes to Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) the following statements: “I have not yet had the opportunity to read the bill and so do not yet have the details of this unusual bill seeking the death penalty (by hanging) on alleged hate speech. …This bill should be deleted immediately. It should immediately be aborted and killed as a malformed embryo at its second reading gestation stage before it is allowed to be delivered as a societal monster.”

The learned Senior Advocate’s comparison of Hate Speeches bill to malformed embryo to be aborted is a subtle allusion and denigration of right to life, which our laws rightly accord to everyone including the so-called ‘malformed embryos’, that is, embryos with congenital defects. In law, abortion for any reason or no reason is a criminalized and rightly so in Nigeria. No one has the right of affront on the consciences of parents who have meritoriously carried an embryo with congenital defects to full term thereby according to such child its fundamental right to life as well as an opportunity to live, which is a core function of parents and government.

The Senate owes an obligation to demonstrate to Nigerians and, the international communities that every Nigerian’s life, subject to constitutionally stated exceptions, is inviolable and unrepeatable. That all arms of government are ready, able and willing to protect and assist Nigerians to value each other’s life as well as to access all it takes to live a fulfilling life in a democratizing society.

The Act requires NOA to have a directorate in each state of the Federation and F.C.T with roles that flow from the functions and objectives of NOA as well as Local Government formations in 776 local governments with duties such as coordinating NOA’s activities in local government areas; advisory and leadership services to interest groups and; to maintain appropriate relationship with local government agencies and, interest groups to ensure local understanding and co-operation on NOA’s activities.

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The Act permits NOA to receive donations and gifts from corporate organizations, cultural entities, donor agencies, religious bodies and individuals. Corporate bodies and individuals should consider assisting NOA financially and, Minister of Information pursuant to FOI Act 2011 ought to publish NOA’s audited account for the preceding year which NOA submitted to him on about 30th of June 2019 on national dailies and online for the information of Nigerians. This sincere act of openness and accountability will revive patriotic confidence of Nigerians and residents in assisting NOA materially to perform its duties.
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n truth, it could be argued that the failures of NOA are reflective of the failures of the organizations whose representatives sit on the Board of NOA. Civil Societies and all interest groups should prevail on Senate of NASS to summon Minister of Information to account for his oversight functions on NOA such as National orientation camps NOA established with his approval as social institutions for orientating Nigerians towards developing socially desirable attitudes, behaviours, values and culture and, National orientation brigade established under the Act as well as details of Minister’s directives to NOA under the Act.

Finally, National Assembly, Executive arm of Government, Civil Societies, Interest Groups as well as every Nigerian should strengthen NOA to realize its functions and objectives which will minimize hate speeches in Nigeria and extinguish senate’s effort to criminalize ordinarily tolerable social defects among Nigerians.

Enwe is a managing associate at SRJ Legal Practitioners, Lagos.

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