By G9ija

Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has urged the Federal Government to apply extant laws in dealing with purveyors of hate speech and fake news.

The guild said its members are trained professionals who would not engage in such unethical practice.

NGE spoke yesterday in Sokoto through its Acting President Mustapha Isah at the opening of its 15th conference with the theme: A Distressed Media: Impact on Government, Governance and Society.

The acting NGE President said the essence of this year’s theme was “to discuss our profession and our survival as well Nigeria and the sustenance of our democracy because without a robust media, democracy suffers”.

He stressed the need for the Federal Government to work closely with critical stakeholders in the media industry to address emerging challenges.

Isah urged promoters of Anti-Hate Speech and Fake News Bills to redirect their steps.

“We wish to remind the promoters of these bills that there are laws already in existence to deal with such infractions. We should not shy away from testing these extant laws,” he said.

The NGE acting President added that Nigerian media was passing through tough a phase likened to an economy downturn, which had grossly affected business.

He maintained that for the media business to survive, “we will find solutions to our problems”.

According to him, the media will not accept any move to surreptitiously curtail press freedom.

“We have a rich history in the fight against colonialism and the struggle for democracy the country is enjoying today. Some journalists lost their lives in the struggles,” Isah said.

He noted that the social media space, like other ecosystems, was being abused by some people.

Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal urged the media to remain vigilant as well as educate and mobilise Nigerians to defend the country’s democracy.

The governor spoke yesterday while declaring open the ANEC in Sokoto.

The governor advised the media to be vigilant in the face of anti-hate speech bill which prescribes death penalty for offenders.

“This is quite scary; it indeed sets people thinking about the true intention of those in the forefront of the bill.

“There are enough provisions in our laws to deal with people whose actions can undermine national unity and cohesion. Such draconian legislation has no place in the constitution and democracy like ours.

“The media must, therefore, remain vigilant. You have a responsibility to educate, mobilise Nigerians to defend this hard-earn democracy. We cannot operate democracy like a military dictatorship.

“The storms are gathering and we must join hands to checkmate anti-democratic elements and return our country to the path of constitutionalism, progress and development,” he said.

Chairman of the occasion and former Ogun State governor, Aremo Segun Osoba, advised the NGE to fight against the hate speech bill.

He said: “The social media are not part of us. So, I don’t know why somebody wants to punish us for an offence what we have not committed.

“In our constitution, there are enough provisions for us to go to court. Therefore, we should continue to fight this out. By the grace of God, we will succeed.”

Also, media guru and Chairman of the Board of the reporters,Alhaji Wada Maida, has said the penalties contemplated for Hate Speech offenders are “going overboard”.

Maida spoke on Wednesday night at the corporate stakeholders’ dinner organised by Kings Broadcast Limited, owners of WE 106.3FM Radio, Abuja, for the relaunch of the radio station.

He advised the National Assembly to emulate other advanced nations on how to deal with the excesses of the social media.

Maida, who is also the publisher of People’s Daily and member of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI), noted that locking up hate speech offenders cannot solve the problems they cause.

“There’s no prison big enough to contain free speech,” he said.

The media guru, who chaired the dinner event, added: “I think we are getting over-concerned over these things. These are things (that happen) all over the world. For anybody to come and say people be killed because of this, I think, is going overboard.

“We know there are problems, but again, there are ways you can also handle them. You can see what is happening in other countries, especially when there are strikes and so on. What they do is to block the social media. I’m told the thing has come down.

“My advice to government is that they should do what other countries are doing, like blocking social media access. Besides, there are other ways of containing the excesses, but not to the extent of taking people to prison or calling for death penalty.”

Chairman of Kings Broadcast Limited, owners of WE 106.3FM, Abuja, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, said the proposed punishment for the abuse of the social media had been taken too far.

“I think proposing death penalty for hate speech is taken too far. We all know and are unhappy with what we are seeing within the social media domains. But I think it’s for us to develop mechanisms to check that.”

Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has said it will resist any attempt by the National Assembly to pass into law the Social Media and Hate Speech Bills.

CAN President Samson Ayokunle urged the National Assembly, particularly Senate President Ahmad Lawan and other senators, to avoid passing two bills into Acts.

A statement yesterday in Abuja by CAN’s National Director, Legal and Public Affairs, Kwamkur Samuel Vondip, said: “…The bills, in the general view of majority of Nigerians, and in ours too, appear to separately seek to gag Nigeria’s citizens from speaking out freely but responsibly on matters that affect their lives in all spheres. This to us is an ill wind that will blow nobody any good.”

A rights activist, Daniel Makolo, yesterday accused the Senate of violating a subsisting judgment of the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which forbade the Federal Government from making any law to criminalise free speech.

The activist said the judgment was delivered on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, barring the Federal Government from free speech or press censorship, in line with Article XIX of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

He said the case in a suit between Mr Festus Ogwuche and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“In view of this judgment, the National Assembly of Nigeria is, therefore, acting contrary to the core terms of the judgment in terms of the citizens’ rights it protects, to embark on the facilitation of the Hate Speeches Establishment Bill 2019.”