The Federal Government of Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari has been dragged before the ECOWAS Court of Justice over its recent decision stipulating N5 million as penalty for hate speech offenders in the country.
The suit was filed against the Federal Government on Monday by a non-governmental organisation, Expression Now Human Rights Initiative (ENHRI), through its lawyer, Solomon Okedara.
ENHRI in the suit contended that the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) on fine for hate speech contradicts Nigeria’s obligation under the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It thus prayed the ECOWAS court to perpetually restrain the Federal Government and its agencies from enforcing Articles 3.1.1, 3.1.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15.5.1 of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition).
The group held that with the provisions, its members “are being forced to have their opinions, which are ordinarily protected by the African Charter and other international human rights instruments, censored before they could be allowed to speak on any media platforms.”
It added, “On some other occasions, they are denied the opportunity to freely express themselves on radio, television and are now afraid of being penalised by imposition of N5m.”
The group urged the ECOWAS court to compel the Federal Government to “repeal or amend Articles 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 15.2.1 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15.5.1 of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition),” in line with the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and the African Charter.
“While the focus of many Nigerians is on the N5m fine which the NBC Code (6th Edition) imposes in its amendments, the code even imposes other far-reaching penalties.
“For example, Article 15.2.1 of the code provides for sanctions such as ‘immediate order of suspension of broadcast services, suspension of licence and immediate shutdown of transmitter; and revocation of licence, seizure and forfeiture of transmitting equipment.
“While the fine of N5m is disproportionate and unjustifiable, penalties like ‘suspension of broadcast services, suspension of licence, shutdown of transmitter’ are excessive and disproportionate and can have a far more damaging effect on free speech.
“The definition of hate speech, as given in the code, is vague, ambiguous and overbroad. The code criminalises ‘offensive reference’ and I wonder if the drafters of the code realised that making ‘offensive reference’ is an integral of free speech and important to open, diverse and heterogeneous society,” ENHRI concluded.