Expression Now Human Rights Initiative (ENHRI) has dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria before the ECOWAS Court of Justice over the government’s recent decision stipulating N5m as the penalty for hate speech in the country. The suit also files for other unpleasant clauses of the 6t Edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code on broadcast organizations.
Solomon Okedara the lawyer of the Incorporated Trustees of ENHRI’s filed suit contends that the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) on hate speech fine is against Nigeria’s obligation in the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
ENHRI opined and says that the ECOWAS court should restrain the Federal Government and its agencies from enforcing and mandating Article 15.5.1 of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Articles 3.1.1, 3.1.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition).
The group said the new code of conduct has taken the right to one’s opinion away from the people which was earlier protected by the African Charter and other international human rights instruments, censored before they could be allowed to speak on any media platforms.”
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“On some other occasions, they are denied the opportunity to freely express themselves on radio, television and are now afraid of being penalised by the imposition of N5m”, Okedara said.
Praying to ECOWAS, ENHRI 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.
According to ENHRI’s lawyer, the code is unfair to Nigerians and the people.
“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”, Okedara said.
“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 the 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.”