Rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has said that the National Assembly lacked the power to pass the Hate Speech Bill before it because hate speech was not covered by the legislative list of powers given to it by the constitution.
He described the bill as a mere attempt to encroach on legislative autonomy of the state governments.
He said, “Since we are operating a federal system of government, the Supreme Court of Nigeria had declared in a number of cases that the National Assembly lacks the constitutional powers to make laws outside its legislative competence, which are by implication residual matters meant for the houses of assembly of the states.
“It is pertinent to point out that the Penal Code and Criminal Code applicable in the Northern and Southern states respectively have made provisions for hate speech because it is a state offence.
“Hence, the House of Assembly of each of the state has enacted laws against incitement, false accusation, sedition and criminal defamation.
"We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had mind when the law was promulgated.
“To retain S. 51 of the Criminal Code, in its present form, that is even if not inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by our constitution, will be a deadly weapon to be used at will by a corrupt government or a tyrant.
“Let us not diminish from the freedom gained from our colonial masters by resorting to laws enacted by them to suit their purpose.
“Those in public office should not be intolerant of criticism. Where a writer exceeds the bounds there should be a resort to the law of libel where the plaintiff must of necessity put his character and reputation in issue.”