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The Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger), has said the hate speech bill he introduced to the Senate will address all issues of discrimination associated with religious and ethnic persecution in Nigeria.

Mr Abdullahi, who is the sponsor of the bill, said this while reacting to Nigeria’s inclusion on the ‘special watchlist’ of the United States Government over high cases of religious and ethnic persecution.

The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, had announced Nigeria’s inclusion in the ‘religion violations’ list.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the U.S. placed Nigeria in the same category as Russia, Cuba and Uzbekistan for its ill attitude to religious freedom.

The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had recommended Nigeria’s designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) given the high cases of violence and discrimination recorded on the basis of religion and ethnicity.

The U.S. government made reference to the killings of Shiite protesters and the violence in Nigeria’s middle belt as some of the reasons for its stance.

It indicted the federal and state governments for their continued tolerance toward violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

The Nigerian government has since rejected the country’s designation describing it as false.

The Nigerian government also described the stance of the U.S. as an “orchestrated narrative that has long been discredited.”

It blamed the ‘political opposition’ for sparing “no resources in deriving political capital from the various security challenges in the country.”

Abdullai’s perspective

In his reaction, Mr Abdullahi said the escalating incidence of religious and ethnic violence in Nigeria stems from discrimination on almost all fronts which the hate speech bill specifically seeks to address.

The bill, “The National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill” was re-introduced in the Senate on November 12.

It prescribes death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading falsehood that leads to the death of another person.

PREMIUM TIMES reported the full provisions of the bill. It has generated controversies among Nigerians since its introduction.

The bill has been criticised by many Nigerians who say it is meant to clamp down on free speech and silence critical voices.

But Mr Abdullahi said with the inclusion of Nigeria on the watch list of the United States Government and sanctions to follow, “it is only imperative for the legislature to act timely by introducing a law to deal with the menace which is becoming an embarrassment to the reputation of the country internationally.”

‘Hate Speech Bill gaining support’

Although the bill has been criticised by many Nigerians and civil society groups as an attempt to clamp down on free speech, Mr Abdullahi said the bill is receiving ‘strong support’ from Nigerians across the country.

“Notable personalities across various professions are beginning to speak out in support of the bill in the media. This is not to leave out some members of the academia that are rallying support for the bill’s passage by the National Assembly,” he said.

“Recent events have vindicated the introduction of the Hate Speech bill and expressed full confidence that Nigerians would come out massively to support it when the time is right,” he said.

“Like I have always state, only those who are against the unity of Nigeria will oppose the bill by hiding under guise of protecting ‘Free Speech’.

“The Hate Speech Bill targets acts of discrimination and absolutely not Freedom of Speech as those with sinister motives who are opposed to the bill are trying to mislead Nigerians into believing.

“Before Nigeria is consumed by religious and ethnic violence, we must all rise to save the country from people using hate speech for personal gains.”

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