Scores of protesters made up of civil society groups and students besieged the National Assembly complex on Wednesday and asked the federal lawmakers to drop the anti-social media and the hate speech bills which were at various stages in the nation’s parliament.
The protesters armed with placards containing various inscriptions such as ‘What are we saying?, Say no to social media bill,’ ‘What are we demanding? Say no to hate speech bill.’
There was a heavy security build-up between 8 am and about 12noon when the protesters ended the protest.
One of the leaders of the civil society group, Henry Shield, told journalists that the protest was to register their opposition to the two bills.
Shield argued that there were laws in Nigeria that could adequately and sufficiently deal with the issues alluded to in the bills.
The protesters were addressed by senators Oseni Yakubu and Uba Sani.
The lawmakers said they had the mandate of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, to speak to the protesters.
Sani explained that there were stages to be followed before a bill could be passed.
He assured Nigerians that the bills would not be passed if Nigerians rejected them during the public hearings.
Sani said, “We believe that your agitation is important. Some of us in the chamber has also been involved in the struggle for the enthronement of democracy.
“The two bills in question are bills that were introduced by some of our colleagues. Some of us in the National Assembly, including the Senate President, would appear at the public hearing. Whatever Nigerians want is what the 9th Senate would do.
“I have no doubt in my mind that if Nigerians don’t want these bills, even though they are sponsored by our colleagues, certainly it won’t escape the public hearing. I can assure you we are going to do whatever is in the best interest of our own country.
“We are aware of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act and some of us are on the same page with these agitations.
“We are not guided by any political affiliation. We are guided by the law and concerned about the progress of our own country.”
Also, Yakubu said, “I want to assure you that the 9th Senate is not in any way an appendage of the executive. No single bill will pass without a public hearing. We are here to make laws for Nigerians, not the Senate.”
One of our correspondents learnt that a policeman assaulted and seized the camera of a journalist during the protest.
The policeman, identified as Adiogu Enyinnaya, was said to have manhandled the journalist with the Roots Television, Tosin Busayo.
The security man was said to have accused the journalist of taking the shots of security operatives on duty.
An eyewitness said, “Enyinnaya was the leader of the police team sent to stop the protesters from entering the National Assembly complex.
“He queried Tosin for filming the police officers and hit the journalist with the baton in his hand.”
A similar protest took place in Lagos where CSOs and youths expressed their opposition to the hate speech bill.
‘Hate speech bill, beginning of dictatorship’
Meanwhile, the founder of the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Chief Afe Babalola, has said the hate speech bill is the beginning of dictatorship in the country.
Babalola said it was needless for any group or individual to contemplate another law to deal with false publications when there were laws already promulgated to take care of such infractions.
The ABUAD founder said this in Ado Ekiti on Wednesday when he was honoured with an Award of Excellence by the Ekiti State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.
He said the provisions of the proposed bill in its entirety were in clear contravention of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, which he said, guaranteed freedom of speech.
Babalola said, “This is the beginning of dictatorship. There are enough laws like defamation, libel, and slander to deal with anybody who publishes falsehood against someone and it comes by way of taking the person to court.
”So, it is of no need to make new laws to deal with somebody who publishes falsehood. There is no need whatsoever for additional laws to deal with that. Although people are complaining because the police are not doing well by delaying the prosecution of offenders, there is no need for this hate speech bill.”
The senior advocate also noted that intimidation of judges could not bring out the best in the justice system.
“The Department of State Services did irreparable damage to the courts the very day houses of judges were ransacked at night. No judge will give judgment against a government when he has the impression that his house will be searched at night,” he argued.