A non-governmental organisation known as Expression Now Human Rights Initiative, has dragged the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari before the ECOWAS Court of Justice over the government’s recent decision stipulating N5m as a penalty for hate speech in Nigeria.
The Incorporated Trustees of ENHRI in the suit filed by the group’s lawyer, Solomon Okedara, contend that the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) on fine for hate speech contradict 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.
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The group is praying the ECOWAS court to perpetually restrained the Buhari 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).
ENHRI said with those 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 that “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.”
Furthermore, the ENHRI urged the ECOWAS court to compel the All Progressives Congress-led 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.
Describing the code as unfair, ENHRI’s lawyer, Okedara, said, “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.”