Efforts to sell the hate speech bill to Nigerians suffered a setback as an activist delivered a court judgment to President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, to guide the Senate from a further attempt to gag free speech in Nigeria.
The letter dated November 28, 2019, drew the attention of the Senate to the judgment of the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forbidding Nigerian government from criminalizing free speech in whatever guise.
The letter was delivered by Mackay Chambers and Associates and reads in part: “We hereby inform you that, the exercise in pursuing this Hate Speeches Establishment Bill 2019 is one in futility and therefore, the tax payers money should not be plunged into it, in view, of the Judgment of the ECOWAS court which has been termed by the global community as a landmark Judgment, a trailblazer for the global freedom of expression.”
The judgement was the culmination of the arbitration in a case instituted by Festus Ogwuche and Anor vs the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The certified true copy of the judgement sighted by Tribune, not The Nigeria Lawyer reads in part: That on Tuesday the 11th day of December 2018 in Suit no; ecw/ccj/app/ 10/15; judgment no; ecw ccj jud 31/18, quashed and forbids the Federal Republic of Nigeria from criminalizing free speech in whatever form, colour or clothing and barred her from free speech or press censorship enshrined and guaranteed under Article XIX of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the ECOWAS protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.”
The judgment states that all these are covenants from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Nigerians enjoy its full declaration.
The letter further stated that the hate speech bill runs contrary to section 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and other international convention to which Nigeria is a signatory.
According to the letter: “The Hate Speeche Establishment Bill 2019 is contrary to Section 22 and 39 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended which guarantees freedom of expression. It needs no saying that, any Law or Act that is or are contrary to the grand norm of the Constitution is null and void.
“The National Assembly under the leadership of our Distinguished Senator, Ahmed Lawan, haven chosen this ignoble road of wilfully subjecting and making our Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations beats our imaginations.
“There is the availability of sufficient Laws on offensive spoken words and actions with great and effectual remedies in our laws. It’s wrongful to attempt criminalizing freedom of expression for the traumatized citizens of Nigeria.
“It is absurd for Nigeria in the committee of nations on earth to be heard singing these ignoble songs rather than creating the conducive environment for freedom of Speech and enterprises for her rapidly growing populations.
“In View of this Judgment, the National Assembly of Nigeria is, therefore, acting contrary to the core terms of the Judgment in terms of the citizens’ rights; it protects, to embark on the facilitation of the Hate Speeches Establishment Bill 2019.
“This Judgment clearly forbids the Federal Republic of Nigeria sued in this case as the Defendant from further violating Nigerians citizens’ rights to freedom of speech being a matter that was initiated within the public interest advocacy mechanism.
“It would not be seen that Nigeria as an entity would have her legislature act in defiance of her international obligations freely entered into and in the face of a valid subsisting Court Judgement.
“Freedom of speech being an entrenched Fundamental Human Rights provided for in the Nigerian Constitution and this Right is fully preserved by the Judgment of the Regional Court afore said. It is completely out of the way for the Nigeria legislature to attempt to facilitate the enactment of any law that infringes the rights protected by the said Judgment of the Regional Court.”
Speaking further on the matter, Barrister Daniel Makolo said the silence of the Attorney General of the Federation was misleading to the National Assembly in the face of the aforementioned judgement of the Regional Court.
He urged Lawan to show the way of global best practices in line With international obligations entered into freely by Nigeria in halting immediately the ignoble debate, inclusive of all processes on the Hate Speeches Establishment Bill 2019 in the public and national security interest of Nigeria, her friends in the International communities and her noble citizens.