An international human rights lawyer and sponsor of the June 12 Public Holiday Act in the Eighth Assembly, Hon. Kayode Oladele, has joined the list of prominent Nigerians calling for caution in the passage of the Social Media Bill and the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill 2019, both of which are currently pending before the National Assembly.
According to Oladele in a chat with our correspondent on Friday, the revolution in information technology and evolution of internet publishing over the years has introduced a new challenge to the world of communication, law and the Courts alike.
He stated: “We must maintain a delicate balancing when it comes to the issue of restriction of freedom of speech, otherwise it would raise some constitutional issues and that is my first concern with both bills.
“For instance, it appears both bills are a clear violation of Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
“Obviously, the provisions of both bills interfere with Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution and in my view constitute a direct conflict with Section 39 (1).
“Consequently, if passed into law, the Court may declare them a nullity.”
Hon. Oladele further stated that his second concern has to do with the death sentence punishment contained in the Hate Speech bill.
He said: “It appears to me that the sponsors of the bill are oblivious of the current global campaign against death sentence generally as a punishment even in murder cases.
“As at today, very handful of countries still retain death sentence in their statutes even in moist serious offences.
“Research conducted on the origin of both bills has traced them to Singapore.
“And Singapore is not a country with enviable human rights record.
“Generally speaking, death sentence is fading fast globally.”
In Oladele’s view, freedom of speech has never been without restrictions.
He also stated: “Contemporary torts of libel and slander, collectively known as defamation laws, which are common features in the legal system of several Commonwealth countries today, including the United States of America, originated primarily from the English defamation law that permits an aggrieved party, including public officers, to initiate an action for libel for any printed, broadcast or published false statements that harm reputation, diminish respect, defame character or cause a reasonable person to have a low esteem of that individual or entity.”
Asked whether the National Assembly would not be in contempt of Court if the lawmakers continue the debate on the passage of the bill despite a court order prohibiting the it from passing the bill, Hon. Oladele said the courts do not have jurisdiction to stop the National Assembly from passing a bill.
He said doing that would be a violation of the principle of separation of powers.
He said: “That is another problem.
“Courts cannot stop the National Assembly from performing their functions, particularly that of lawmaking as expressly provided for by Section 4 of our Constitution.
“Once both Chambers pass a bill, it would be transmitted to the President for his assent.
“The President then considers the bill and if he agrees with it, he would sign it into law.
“It is at that point that the courts are vested with the power to review, which must be on the application of an interested party.
“The court has no power to stop debate of any bill.
“This is why constituents are always enjoined to call their representatives and prevail on them not to support an unpopular bill.
“This is the standard democratic practice and procedure worldwide.”