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Senate Passes Hate Speech Bill, Offender Risks 10-Year Imprisonment

Hate speech bill

Hate speech purveyors are to be jailed for 10 years, fined N20 million or both, according to a bill passed on Tuesday by the Senate.

It also prescribes 20 years jail term without option of fine for any person who propagates information that undermines the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or unity of the federation.

These provisions are contained in the bill which seeks to establis the “Electoral Offence Commission and for other related matters 2021”.

“Any person who uses hate speech to stir up ethnic, religious or racial hatred, social or political, insecurity or violence, against anyone or group or person”, is liable to 10 years in jail or N20 million fine or both, the bill proposed.

The Hate Speech Bill introduced last year by lawmakers was shot down by protestation from across sector of Nigerians.

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It has now found its way back through the Electoral Offences Commission.

Tuesday’s passage of the bill followed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The upper chamber adopted the Committee’s recommendation of 20 years imprisonment for any person involved in ballot box snatching, supplying voter card to persons without due authority, unauthorised printing of voter register, illegal printing of ballot paper or electoral document, and importation of any device or mechanism by which ballot paper or results of elections may be extracted, affected or manipulated, and voting at an election when he is not entitled to vote.

The in Clause 12 of the Bill approved at least five years imprisonment or a fine of at least N10million or both, for any officer or executives of any association or political party that engages in electoral fraud that contravenes the provisions of clauses 221, 225(1)(2)(3) and (4) and 227 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

It also approved 10 years imprisonment for any person who sells voter card, or in possession of any voter card bearing the name of another person, or prepares and prints a document or paper purporting to be a register of voters or a voter’s card.

The also approved a term of at least 10 years upon conviction for any election official who “willfully prevents any person from voting at the polling station, wilfully rejects or refuses to count any ballot paper validly cast, willfully counts any ballot paper not validly cast, gives false evidence or withholds evidence, and announces or declares a false result at an election.”

The Upper Chamber in Clause 20(2) approved at least 15 years imprisonment for any judicial officer or officer of a court or tribunal who corruptly perverts electoral justice, during or after an election.

It also prescribed at least 15 years jail term or N30 million fine for any security personnel or election official engaged by the Independent National Electoral Commission or State Electoral Commission who attempts to influence the outcome of an election.

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In addition, any person found to disturb the public peace on “Election Day” by playing musical instruments, singing or holding an assembly where a polling station is located shall be guilty of breaching electoral peace and liable to six months imprisonment or a fine of at least N100,000 or both.

Also, any person acting for himself or on behalf of any organisation or political party or candidate or his agent with the intention of prejudicing the result of an election, damage or defame, in any manner, the character of any candidate in an election or his family member by making, saying, printing, airing or publishing in the print or electronic media false accusation on any matter shall be guilty of serious corrupt practice and liable on conviction to a term of at least 10 years or a fine of N10million or both.

Any person soliciting or giving votes for or against any political party or candidate at an election, or found to affix campaign materials on any private house, public buildings or structures, or prints posters and banners without the name and address of the political party to which the candidate or person belongs contravenes sub-clause (1) to (5) and guilty of an offence and liable to at least five years or a fine of at least N10million, or both.

The National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2021, prohibits any campaign against national interest.

“By the foregoing statistics, it is unrealistic to expect INEC to conduct free, fair and credible election and simultaneously prosecute offences arising from the same elections.

”Indeed, INEC has at several occasions admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to cleanse the system.

“Its failure to prosecute even one per cent of 870,000 and over 900,000 alleged electoral offences in 2011 and 2015 general elections respectively is an affirmation of the necessity for a paradigm shift on how we deal with electoral offences”, the Kano South lawmaker said.

According to him, as a result of electoral flaws in the system, the Justice Uwais Electoral Committee; Sheik Nurudeen Lemu Committee; and Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee were constituted.

He recalled that the various committees in their final reports recommended that for INEC to function efficiently, some of the functions currently performed by it should be assigned to other agencies.

The Senate approved the establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission.

The Commission’s membership consists of the Chairman, Secretary and representatives from the Justice, Interior, Defence, and Information Ministries.

The function of the Commission includes investigating electoral Offences created in any laws relating to elections in Nigeria; prosecution of electoral offenders; and maintaining records of all persons investigated and prosecuted.

Others are to liaise with the Attorney-General of the Federation and government security and law enforcement bodies and agencies in the discharge of its duties; liaise with other bodies within and outside Nigeria involved in the investigation or prosecution of electoral Offences; and adopting measures to prevent, minimize and eradicate electoral offences throughout the federation.

 

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