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Nigerians Scream Over Proposed Death Sentence For Hate Speech

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Condemnations have trailed the proposed bill seeking to place a death penalty on anyone convicted of hate speech.

The law to establish a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches, on Tuesday, passed its first reading on the floor of the Senate.

The Bill is sponsored by Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, is coming barely one week after the same chamber initiated moves to regulate the use of social media.

Abdullahi, who was the spokesman of the last Senate, had proposed death by hanging for persons convicted for hate speech. Depending on the degree of the offence, the Bill also provides for life jail, five years of imprisonment, or an option of N10million fine for persons convicted of hate speech.

Reacting, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Agbakoba Olisa, told the senators to kill the bill, as it was irrelevant and unnecessary.

“First, we have laws in place under our criminal justice system; all we need is enforcing the laws against hate speech by the police. But more important is the fact that the bill is also an establishment bill, which means establishing an agency to enforce the laws prescribed by the bill, placing expenditures we cannot afford. Seeing that we are running a deficit budget of nearly 30 per cent, I urge the Senators to kill it.

“An Establishment Bill sets up a bureaucracy and structures with grave implications for financial resources. But an Executor Bill merely legislates on any matter without strain on resources. So, the new Finance Bill is executory as the FIRS will execute the new VAT tax without any financial implications. Executor’s Bill is an executory bill,” said Olisa.

Another SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome described it as draconian and should be aborted as a malformed embryo at its second reading before it is delivered as a societal monster.

“The bill is an ill-intentioned, ill-conceived, ill-digested and ill-part dictatorial and absolutist piece of nonsensical legislation waiting to consume all of us. An obnoxious law such as this will further drive underground and into hiding, the opposition and genuine social critics who speak truth to power and criticise serial opaque, anti-people, corrupt and high-handed policies of the government.

“This government has been tested and known to be very allergic to constructive criticisms. It is a government that listens to itself, sets its own examination questions, marks them and award marks to itself. Citizens’ opinion does not matter. That is why we have topmost government officials who shock the conscience of Nigerians and the world by saying, for example, that insecurity in Nigeria is exaggerated (Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, SAN); and that Nigerian roads are not as bad as we “falsely” proclaim (Raji Fashola, Minister of Works and Housings).”

Another Senior Advocate, Ahmed Raji, said the world is moving away from the death penalty.

“I think we should start by probing into what constitutes hate speech under the proposed legislation. Notwithstanding what may constitute hate speech, the world is moving away from the death penalty. And what do we intend to achieve by imposing the death penalty? Will it deter? I think not.”

Former Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Lagos branch, Emeka Nwadioke, said the imposition of the death penalty was ridiculous in an era when many jurisdictions were jettisoning capital punishment. He also said creating another commission for that purpose amounts to a duplication.

“Restrictions on hate speech must not be abused or deployed to silence journalists and minorities or to suppress criticism of government policies, the opposition or religious groups. The provision for the establishment of a Commission is laughable, given that these offences verging on defamation and hate crimes are already being dealt with by the police. Self-regulation backed by industry codes and sanctions as well as advocacy towards respecting pluralism is the way to go.”

Mr. Lanre Arogundade, journalist, activist and Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC) dismissed it as annoying and unwarranted.

“It is an absolute waste of public resources to seek to establish a National Commission for hate speech at a time when the social and infrastructural needs of citizens are begging for urgent attention. Roads are collapsing, hospitals are failing, schools are getting dilapidated, but fixing those doesn’t seem to be the priority for this bunch of elected representatives of the people.

“The intention is to criminalise dissent, freedom of expression and press freedom, and we will not buy into such anti-human rights agenda. Those who deserve the death penalty are the looters of the treasury, the long list of which EFCC has. And those who deserve a life sentence are those who misappropriate funds meant for constituency projects. Politicians that lie and fail to fulfil campaign promises are the ones who should be under the hangman’s noose.”

Similarly, Herbert Bata, Senior Lecturer, Department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo, said it is uncalled for.

“What is this bellyaching about hatred? Is hatred not an emotion! Is hate speech not an emotional expression? Can you force one to love when he/she feels the opposite? Is it not our fundamental human right to love and to hate?

“I hate wars. Yes, I hate hypocrisy in government. Yes, I hate poverty! I hate illiteracy, disease, filth, corruption, bad governance. I hate them all. I hate those who encourage evil! I hate those who promote homosexuality and same-sex marriage but say polygamy is barbaric. I hate kidnappings, robbery, embezzlement, murder and thieving spirits. And I hate those who perpetrate those acts. Now, isn’t this hate speech?” the don queried.

“Rights activist and lawyer, Kunle Adegoke said while hate speech is condemnable in all its purport and essence, recommending a death sentence is too grave a punishment.

“In this age when the rest of the world is reducing the number of offences punishable by death, Nigeria will be off the mark to be prescribing death sentence for an offence sufficiently punishable by a less prescription”, Adegoke stated.

Chief Abia Onyike, former Deputy National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, and Centre Against Brutality and Safety of Journalists in Africa (CABSOJA) said the proposed law is a misdirection of energy and an assault on the free press, citizen journalism and freedom of expression.

Rights activist and Executive Director, CABSOJA, Ugochukwu Ezekiel, said the country already has the Cyber Crimes Act bordering on offences committed through the use of social media. According to him, by prescribing the death penalty, the bill was designed to shut out the media from holding the government accountable to its responsibilities.

Head, Department of Mass Communication, Rehma University Aba, Dr. Uwoma Uche, said the death sentence is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

He said setting up a Commission to oversee hate speech amounts to duplicating the functions of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and relevant bodies with the constitutional responsibility of regulating speech in the broadcast media.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Ige Asimudara, faulted the decision of the legislators to entertain the bill.

“These are terrible legislators. How can a legislator propose death penalty for hate speech. This is the beginning of the death of press freedom. It is intended to gag free speech. Who defines hate speech?”

Former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Dave Ajetumibi, said the penalty was too harsh, but supported any law that checks the reckless use of social media.

BIG STORY

War Of Words: Amaechi Fights Wike At Supreme Court Justice’s Burial

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, on Saturday engaged in a verbal fight at the burial of a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, in the Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of the state.

Amaechi, who is the Minister of Transportation, while speaking at the funeral service, lamented what he termed the rising insecurity and political intimidation in the state, saying the state was back to the time of Ateke Tom, a former militant leader, who is now the traditional head of Okochiri town in Okrika LGA of the state.

“You have lost your voice. The sage (the late justice) has gone under and nobody is speaking. When I was governor, I gave people voices, but they have blocked those voices.

“Everyone is scared. We are going back to when Ateke held sway. We are going back to the period where we run away from our people. We are back to a period when nobody could speak. But from next year, I will begin to speak, if nobody wants to speak.

“We are all here because we need to bury a man God has blessed. I have stopped traveling because of bad weather, but I told myself I must be here because of Justice Whyte.

“If you knew Justice (Karibi-Whyte) very well, you will know I was close to him. I was one of the few people he mentored,” Amaechi stated.

Wike on his part described the late Karibi-Whyte as an epitome of unshakable integrity, civility, and dignity, but noted that comments credited to Amaechi were embarrassing.

Responding to Amaechi, Wike who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Chief Emeka Woke, said the minister had lost touch with developments in the state, adding that since the launching of Operation Sting by his administration, the security situation had improved greatly.

Wike said, “It is unfortunate for Amaechi to come to Kalabari land and accuse former President Goodluck Jonathan of not developing the area six years after he had left office.

“I wonder why the former governor will choose to make such embarrassing remarks at the funeral of late Justice Karibi-Whyte, a man he (Amaechi) claimed to be his mentor.”

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Nationwide Strike: Nigerian Govt Releases Details Of Agreements With Labour Leaders

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The Federal government on Monday made public the details of its agreements with organised labour.

A statement on FG’s Twitter handle said officials held consultation meetings with leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on September 15, 24 and 27, 2020.

The resolutions reached included establishment of Technical Committee on Electricity Tariff.

It is chaired by the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and comprises ministries, agencies, NLC and TUC.

They will work over the next two weeks.

They are to examine the justification for the electricity tariff review; review the deployment of meters, and advice FG on issues hindering implementation.

During the two-week period, DISCOs will suspend implementation of the electricity tariff adjustments.

The statement reiterated that the petrol subsidy regime has stifled downstream sector growth.

“In addition, the dire financial circumstances of the Federation preclude the ability to sustain any subsidy on PMS, and thus makes the deregulation of the sector inevitable. NNPC will expedite the rehabilitation of its Refineries, with a 50% completion target for Port Harcourt by December 2021.

“NNPC will integrate national leadership of NUPENG and PENGASSAN into the Steering Committee established to oversee the Rehabilitation Exercise. A Validation Team comprising of Reps of @NNPCgroup, @nigeriaeiti, @icrcng, NUPENG and PENGASSAN will be established to monitor the progress of the Rehabilitation of Refineries, Pipelines and Depot Networks.

“The Federal Government will continue to facilitate licensing and delivery of new modular and regular refineries. FG will ensure delivery of 1 million CNG/LPG Autogas Conversion Kits, Storage Skids and Dispensing Units under the Nigeria Gas Expansion Programme, by December 2021.

“A Governance Structure for this project will be established and will include Labour Representatives. FG will work to facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage. FG will make available to Labour 133 CNG/LPG-driven Mass Transit Buses immediately, for use in major cities nationwide, and thereafter extend to all States and LGAs before December 2021.

“Ongoing FG Housing Initiatives will have 10 per cent allocated to Nigerian workers. Moribund National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) will be revived before the end of 2020, to institutionalize dialogue and engagement on socio-economic and labour issues to forestall future crises,” it disclosed.

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BIG STORY

Labour Suspends Planned Strike As FG Reverses Electricity Tariff Hike

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The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have suspended the strike scheduled to commence today (Monday).

This followed an agreement reached with the Federal Government at a meeting which started at 8.30 pm on Sunday and ended at 2:50 am this morning.

After exhaustive deliberations on the issues raised by the labour centres, the meeting agreed to suspend the application of the cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments for two weeks.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, read the five-page communique signed by the representatives of the government and labour.

The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; and his Trade Union Congress counterpart, Quadri Olaleye, amongst others signed on behalf of Organised Labour while the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige; Minister of State Petroleum, Timipre Silva; Minister of State Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN); Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; and the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and others, signed on behalf of the government.

Olaleye confirmed the development in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday morning.

He said, “Definitely correct. We just left a press conference. We signed a document to suspend the action for two weeks for the government to implement those things that we agreed in the agreement. So, we are suspending for two weeks.

“We don’t need a notice again to re-convene if there is a need to do that.”

The parties agreed to set up a technical committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NLC and TUC.

It would work for a duration of two weeks effective September 28, to examine the justifications for the new policy “in view of the need for the validation of the basis for the new cost-reflective tariff as a result of the conflicting information from the fields which appeared different from the data presented to justify the new policy by NERC; metering deployment, challenges, timeline for massive rollout.”

The members of the committee include the Minister of State Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN) as Chairman; Minister of State Power, Godwin Jedy-Agba; Chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission, James Momoh; Special Assistant to the President on Infrastructure, Ahmad Zakari as the Secretary.

Other members are Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen, Joe Ajaero (NLC), Chris Okonkwo (TUC) and a representative of electricity distribution companies.

The committee’s terms of reference are to examine the justification for the new policy on cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments; to look at the different DISCOs and their different electricity tariff vis-à-vis NERC order and mandate; examine and advise government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the 6 million meters, among others.

“During the two weeks, the DISCOs shall suspend the application of the cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments,” the communique noted.

It also noted that the FG has fashioned out palliatives that would ameliorate the sufferings that Nigerian workers may experience as a result of the hike in cost electricity tariffs and the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.

The palliatives will be in the areas of transport, power, housing, agriculture and humanitarian support.

The meeting also resolved that the 40 per cent stake of government in the DISCO and the stake of workers should be reflected in the composition of the DISCO’s boards.

It agreed that “an all-inclusive and independent review of the power sector operations as provided in the privatization MoU to be undertaken before the end of the year 2020, with labour represented.

“All parties agreed on the urgency for increasing the local refining capacity of the nation to reduce the overdependency on the importation of petroleum products to ensure energy security, reduce the cost of finished products, increase employment and business opportunities for Nigerians.”

To address this, the parties resolved that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should expedite the rehabilitation of the nation’s four refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna to achieve 50 per cent completion by December 2021, while timelines and delivery for Warri and Kaduna will be established by the inclusive steering committee.

“To ensure commitment and transparency to the processes and timelines of the rehabilitation exercise, the management of NNPC has offered to integrate the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association into the steering committee already established by the corporation,” the communique stated.

It added that a validation team comprising the representatives of the NNPC, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, NUPENG and PENGASSAN would be established to monitor the progress of the rehabilitation of the refineries and the pipelines/strategic depots network and advice the steering committee periodically.

It also said that post-rehabilitation, NNPC shall involve the PENGASSAN and NUPENG in the process of establishing the operational model of the nation’s refineries.

The statement added, “The Federal Government will facilitate the delivery of licensed modular and regular refineries, the involvement of upstream companies in petroleum refining and establishing a framework for financing in the downstream sector.

“NNPC to expedite work on the Build, Operate and Transfer framework for the nation’s pipelines and strategic depots network for efficient transportation and distribution of petroleum products to match the delivery timelines of the refineries as agreed.”

The government and its agencies agreed to ensure delivery of 1 million CNG/LPG AutoGas conversion kits, storage skids and dispensing units under the Nigeria Gas Expansion Programme by December 2021 to enable the delivery of cheaper transportation and power fuel.

A governance structure that will include representatives of organized labour shall be established for a timely delivery.

To cushion the impacts of the downstream sector deregulation and tariffs adjustment in the power sector, the FG agreed to announce in two weeks a specific amount to be accessed by workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the Central Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting.

The meeting further resolved that the FG will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable.

The government would also make available to organized labour 133 CNG/LPG-driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the country on a scale-up basis thereafter, to all states and local governments before December 2021.

“On Housing, 10 per cent to be allocated to Nigerian workers under the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance initiative through the NLC and TUC,” the communique disclosed.

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