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Lawyers divided over constitutionality of hate speech as terrorism

Some lawyers on Monday described hate speech as a moral issue not constitutional, while others said it should be treated as a treasonable offense.

According to agency reports, that the lawyers  were reacting to the Federal Government’s description of  hate speech as an act of terrorism.

Mr Bankola Akomolafe, an Abuja-based a legal practitioner said that the ban on hate speech by the Federal Government was both morally and constitutionally in order.

He described those saying there was nothing like hate speech under Nigerian law as those who do not know the constitution, adding that hate speech was inimical to the unity of the country.

Akomolafe said that hate speech could trigger violence, adding that it was the duty of the Federal Government to provide for security of lives and property for Nigerians, hence the need to ban it.

“You cannot say because the constitution gives you the right to speak and begin to say things that can trigger violence, the right you claim you have can be stopped when it is exercised in breach of others rights.

“If your freedom to speak can trigger violence, it is the right of the Federal Government to stop it; the government is saddle with the responsibility of ensuring peace and unity to protect from internal and external aggression.”

He decried the way some people were dismissing hate speech, saying that in the constitution it was sequel to undue radicalism.

“The person making such comment should read the constitution again,’’ he said.

Akomolafe said that although the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression but it should be put in the perspective of peace and stability in the polity.

Mr Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, a Lagos-based lawyer in a statement  said that he did not agree with the concept of hate speech.

According to him, the Constitution in Section 39 has granted an unqualified freedom of expression to every citizen.

“If at all any speech has violated anybody’s legal rights at, there is the extant common law remedy of libel actions for damages in civil cases and criminal libel in criminal cases,’’ he said.

Mr Okoli Ezenwa, another Abuja-based legal practitioner said that although hate speech was not properly defined in the constitution, it could be described as improper and immoral.

“I don’t believe hate speech is tantamount to terrorism but it should be treated as a treasonable offence.’’

“The constitution cannot provide for everything and that is where Adegboruwa is wrong, for him to say there is nothing like hate speech in the constitution, it is wrong.’’

He described the secret police set up by the Biafra and the Arewa threat to the Igbos to quit the North as incitements and aberration which should be treated as treasonable offence.

As Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo,  had on August 17 at the security summit for members of National Economic Council declared that hate speech would now be viewed as an act of terrorism.

He said that technology and internet had amplified the impact of terrorists, war-mongers, secessionists and peddlers of hate speech.

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