by Chenedu Asadu,
Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, says it is unlawful for the military to arrest perpetrators of hate speech in the country.
Falana said this while reacting to the purported directive of the federal government to the military to clamp down on purveyors of hate speech.
Earlier this week, the military had announced that it will be on the lookout for comments and utterances that could threaten the nation’s peaceful co-existence.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Falana said it is only the Nigerian police force that is empowered to carry out such a directive in line with their responsibility of maintaining law and order.
The senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to also respect the rights of those seeking the negotiation of Nigeria’s unity “within the ambits of the law”.
“While the federal government is entitled to continue to defend the corporate existence of Nigeria, the right of any group to disagree with the official stand within the ambit of the law should be respected,” he said.
“Therefore, the purported presidential directive authorizing armed soldiers to arrest civilians involved in ‘subversive activities’ should be withdrawn. More so, that it cannot be justified under any law in Nigeria.
“Since it is the constitutional responsibility of the police to maintain law and order in our democratic society, members of the armed forces should not be permitted to arrest alleged purveyors of hate speeches.
“For the avoidance of doubt, section 4 of the Police Act has empowered the Nigeria Police Force to arrest and prosecute criminal suspects in the country.
“However, section 47 (1) of the CyberCrimes (prohibition, prevention etc) Act provides that law enforcement agencies shall have power to prosecute offences under this act while section 58 thereof defines law enforcement agencies to include ‘any agency for the time being responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of this act.’
“As the Nigerian Army is not one of the law enforcement agencies envisaged by the Act and other penal laws it should not be permitted to enforce any of the laws against hate speeches.”
Falana also said what Nigeria needs is the political will to enforce pre-existing laws targeted at dealing with hate speech and not establishing new ones.