The Archbishop, Methodist Church Nigeria, Ibadan Archdiocese, Most Rev’d Muyiwa Odejayi, has described as “antithetical to development”, the proposed death penalty for hate speech in a bill before the National Assembly.
He gave the warning in Ibadan while speaking with journalists ahead of the sixth annual harvest of Diocese of Ibadan of Methodist Church, holding today (Sunday) at Agbeni Cathedral, Ibadan.
Odejayi described the bill as a grand design, probably to ensure people don’t react to issues that affect the nation, adding that the government was distracting itself with the hate speech palaver, instead of focusing on programmes that will make life meaningful to Nigerians.
The bill, stipulating death penalty for hate speech, was sponsored by the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, representing Niger North and has already passed the first reading at the Senate.
The cleric said, “It is just like when you place an embargo on the press. There is an aspect, where you would expect the press people to dwell on, or make comments on; probably you are not expecting them to comment on almost everything.
“You don’t want people to react. You don’t want people to condemn. You want people to always be in support of whatever is being done in the country. If we do that, that may not be okay in our country. It is a way of silencing people. It is a way of saying that people cannot be making comments on almost everything.
“Though I am not talking on defamation of character, even when it comes to defamation of character, I think there are some ways by which we can approach this, rather than saying it must be death sentence.
“There are so many things happening in our country, which I believe the federal government must concentrate on doing. There are so many things that are still not going on well in the country, which the government should be able to improve upon, rather than trying to say something is defamation of character.
“If the government is not doing what it should be doing, I think the citizens of the country are expected to react on any issue affecting the country. If the economy is not too good, people are expected to react to it. If the security of the country is nothing to write home about, the people can react by saying it is not good enough. If the security of the country is not too good, how do you expect investors to come over to Nigeria and establish businesses? How would you be able to establish a business in an environment that is not peaceful?
“Some people may not agree with what I have said, but I just felt that in an egalitarian society, we have gone past this. Government should be able to do what is needful; things that people will be happy for, things that people will commend them on, things that will make people to make remarkable comments, and they will be happy about it.
“If you go to other developed countries, they expect you to make comments. They feel making comments will be able to help them to know whether they are doing well or they are not doing well”.
“I have observed that in our country, when you make comments that they are not doing well, people don’t want it.”
Odejayi noted further that though Nigeria is not in the military era, there are some things being done under the democratic setting that are synonymous to military era, saying: “I think one of them is the death penalty, which the government wants to introduce for hate speech.”
Fielding questions on the alleged travail of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the sack of his 35 aides for reduction of cost of governance, Odejayi stated: “It is possible, may be some people have told him that he should not make any comment. You know the politics in Nigeria, don’t make comment, once that is done, just forget about it. But for fear of what the federal government might do, he may not want to make any comment. If he (Osinbajo) is not ready to give any satisfactory explanation, he has no option then than to resign,” the cleric said.