The Senate has said it is not possible for it to initiate a bill that prescribes the death penalty for looters.
The red chamber, however, pledged to support any executive or private member bill that would criminalise acts of corruption.
The spokesperson for the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki, stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday.
He spoke against a backdrop of some Nigerians and groups calling for a bill that prescribes the death penalty for treasury looters instead of the lawmakers devoting time to social media and hate speech bills.
Akwashiki explained that it was impossible for the Senate President to direct any senator to produce any particular bills, including one that prescribes the death penalty for looters.
“It is not possible for the Senate President to direct any senator to go and produce a particular type of bill. All of us are elected to represent our constituency from various parts of the country,” he said.
The Senate spokesperson also said different punishments were already prescribed against corruption in the acts that established the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“We have the ICPC Act and the EFCC Act and there are punishments there for offenders. I want to believe we are going gradually. However, any bill that would criminalise looting is a good proposal that the Senate could consider,” he said.
Akwashiki, however, said the executive arm of government, groups or individuals should initiate bills that prescribe the death penalty for treasury looters and see if the upper chamber would not push them through.
He also described as untrue insinuations that senators, particularly former governors and ministers in the red chamber, would reject such legislation in order to protect themselves.
He said, “We started a serious fight against corruption a few years ago when President Muhammadu Buhari got into office.
“The issue of a bill against corruption and looters in the Senate is a constitutional right of every senator, the executive arm of government, groups or private individuals.
“Anybody in the country is free to propose a bill through any senator. If you have such a proposal, get in touch with your senator, sit down with him and convince him why you want that type of law to be enacted.”
Stressing that the red chamber would support any bill that criminalises corruption, Akwashiki said, “This country belongs to all of us. Every person in this country has the right to present their opinion in terms of enacting an Act for the benefit of the people.
“When the Senate discovers there are many people requesting a particular bill, one day, one senator will just wake up and initiate a proposal and present it before his colleagues.”
He also said not all former governors or former ministers in the red chamber were corrupt.
He said, “We have 109 senators. How many are former governors or ministers?
“Are you saying we could get 60 senators who are either former governors or ministers?
“Senate is a place where everybody is free to express their opinions, according to the wishes of the people who elected them.
“The Senate chamber is higher than any former governor or minister.”
Meanwhile, the Senate spokesperson said the red chamber had yet to discuss the issue of the death penalty in the hate speech bill because the proposal still remained the personal property of the sponsor until it passed second reading.
He said, “The issue of expunging the death penalty from the hate speech bill is not the decision of the Senate yet. There is a process of enacting an Act. The bill will pass first, second and third readings.
“The hate speech bill has just been mentioned for the first time. It has not come up for a second reading. It is when it is introduced for the second time that the senators will for the first time voice out for or against the bill.
“For now, the sponsor has said he will expunge the clause that prescribes the death penalty for hate speech; that is his own personal opinion.
“I have said it times without number that the hate speech bill is a private member bill. When we get to its second reading, that is when Nigerians will know the position of the Senate on the bill. If the bill does not pass second reading, that will be its end.
“The senators may even decide to remove other clauses apart from the death penalty provision.”
Prescribing death penalty for graft’ll be self-indicting –Afenifere
But Yoruba sociocultural group, Afenifere, said the National Assembly could not prescribe the death penalty for treasury looters because it would be self-indicting, noting that it was not surprising that the lawmakers chose to save their own necks.
The group’s spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said most lawmakers would not be alive if the death sentence was prescribed for corruption.
He stated, “The senators cannot prescribe the death penalty for looters because they do not want to sentence themselves to death; it is easier to send others to death. If you prescribe the death sentence for looters, then a lot of them would not be alive.”
Afenifere argued that the hate speech bill was meant to impress President Muhammadu Buhari, advised Nigerians to resist the bill.
He alleged many leaders of the ruling party engaged in hate speech in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
Odumakin said, “A few days ago, the Senate President said they would pass anything President Buhari brought, which clearly showed the height of their servitude.
“What they are doing is to impress the President at the expense of the Nigerian people. But Nigerians have to rise up against this barbaric law they are to make.
“When you compile the speeches of all APC leaders between 2014 and 2015, the title of the book you would write is, ‘Hate Speech: Parts One and Two.”
We don’t support death penalty under any guise –TI
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre and Head of Transparency International (Nigeria), Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, said the organisations would not support the death penalty under any guise.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, Rafsanjani, however, asked lawmakers to channel their energy and time towards making laws that would ensure accountability and transparency.
He also urged them to legislate on issues that would promote good governance as well as end corruption and poverty.
He said, “It is clear our lawmakers have misplaced priorities. They do not know what we want.
“We do not support the death penalty under any guise because of its negative consequences. We do not recommend killing under any guise.
“There are more pressing national issues they can legislate on, like how to stop corruption and poverty.
“They should also make laws for good governance. There should be accountability and transparency. This is our stand.”
We have no moral right to sponsor hate speech bill –APC chieftain
Meanwhile, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Niger State and former Commissioner for Information, Mr Jonathan Vatsa, on Friday said the ruling party had no moral right to sponsor the hate speech bill or any law that sought to gag the press.
He said this at the Social Media Summit in Minna, organised by the Progressive Media Practitioners.
Vatsa said the ruling APC “benefitted immensely from this thing we call hate speech.”
He said, “Before 2015, I can remember we used all forms of propaganda against the ruling PDP, we said anything to make sure the people hated the party.
“Our focus at that time was to ensure that we discredited the then ruling party and we won. We should not be afraid of the poison we gave PDP at that time.
“Personally, I will not be a party to a law that will gag the press. In some other climes, people would have commenced the process of recalling the sponsor of that bill.”
The convener of the summit, Daniel Atori, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to impress upon lawmakers to enact laws that promote meaningful development rather than those that did not benefit the people.
“The National Assembly should reconsider and drop these bills and ensure they propose a bill that will improve the welfare of media practitioners instead of proposing bills that will gag the media that fought tirelessly for the democracy we are all enjoying now,” he said.
CAN kicks against social media, hate speech bills
In a related manner, the Christian Association of Nigeria has kicked against social media and hate speech bills, describing them as ploys to gag Nigerians.
The CAN President, Dr Samson Ayokunle, called on the National Assembly to drop the bills and focus on legislations that address insecurity, deplorable infrastructural amenities and the general welfare of the people.
In a statement, the National Director, Legal and Public Affairs, CAN, Mr Samuel Kwamkur, said having examined the tensions and fears the bills had created, the body called on the National Assembly to discard them.
“CAN is calling on the National Assembly, particularly the President of the Senate and all distinguished Senators, to discountenance the two bills and put off completely any contemplation to pass them into acts of the National Assembly as sincere lovers of the nation,” the statement read in part.
The body argued there were adequate laws to check the excesses of individuals and organisations that were misusing social media and propagating hate speech.
Although the body observed that some individuals and organisations had taken advantage of social media to cause damage to individuals and institutions, it described this as “unfortunate developments in the use of technology.”
SAN knocks NBA for alleged docility
In the meantime, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Oladipo Olasope, has knocked the Nigerian Bar Association for its alleged docility and silence on the hate speech bill that has passed second reading in the National Assembly.
According to Olasope, the NBA should have set up a committee to review the bill, take a position and institute legal action against it and probably obtain an injunction to stop the bill.
The lawyer spoke to journalists on the sidelines of a round-table meeting tagged, ‘Criminalising Hate Speech: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,’ organised by the Ibadan chapter of the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria. The event held at the Afe Babalola Bar Centre in Ibadan.
Olasope, who urged the occasion, said, “I expected the NBA to have done something about this issue by now. The bill has continued to grow and passed the second reading.
“By now, the NBA should be in court. NBA is not expected to be docile. The NBA should go to court to challenge it and get an injunction before it goes further. That is what I believe the bar should do. The press should also do the same.”
Olasope, who charged the press to take the necessary measures to stop the bill from going further, raised the alarm that if the bill was passed into law, it would silence the press and make them lose relevance.
He added that the bill favoured a particular section of the country as it contained issues of favouritism, federal character, catchment area of tertiary institutions and others.
“This hate speech bill is obviously being made to shift the balance and favour a section of Nigeria,” he said.