Since the vice president spoke against hate speech, some Nigerians who have access to the public space through the social media especially, have likened Prof. Yemi Osinjajo’s promise to articulate a law that will regulate hate speech as anti freedom of expression. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Freedom of expression does not in any way support the concept of hate speech. And indeed, it should be noted that there are no absolute rights. Otherwise, there would have been no need to make a law against defamation for example.
Hate speech is something even more sinister. There have been such speeches even in early 20th century that have caused serious wars, even world wars. In Africa, the Rwandan genocide is a perfect example, where ethnic bigotry using the spoken word through a radio station led to the slaughtering of about one million Rwandans in a not too distant time. In Nigeria, such spoken or written words have crept into our body polity. It is fueled as a result of the wide usage of the internet. Hate speech simply means the use of speeches or written words to derogate a group based on their religion, ethnicity, race, disability, or gender.
Every right thinking Nigerian will accept the fact that we have reached a boiling point in this kind of discrimination. The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and its leader Nnamdi Kanu together with their pirate radio station, Radio Biafra are at the zenith of preaching hate in Nigeria. Since their campaign to balkanise Nigeria began, there is no kind of hate that has not emanated from the group targeted at other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. In the same vein, the statement issued by so called Arewa youths that an ethnic group should to quit northern Nigeria otherwise evil will befall them is another classic example of hate speech.
So the increasing resort to hate speeches and songs on various organs of the mass media, especially radio and social media, does not bode well for the unity and stability of the country or any country for that matter. It is a clear indication that national cohesion is under serious threat, as the trust and confidence holding the nation’s diverse ethnic groups together appear shaken. Nigeria is now seemingly viciously divided along ethnic, religious and social lines.
These hate speeches and songs are reprehensible and absolutely condemnable. They should not be encouraged or tolerated in any part of the country. Therefore, every step must be taken by the government to stop these tendencies. We say this because almost every war starts with hate speeches or war of words.
It is not good enough to just condemn this misadventure. It is time to act. It is time for government go after their sponsors. The National Economic Council, NEC, headed by Osinbajo, has resolved to designate special courts for purveyors of hate speeches and suspected terrorists and kidnappers, while President Muhammadu Buhari, who returned to the country on Saturday, strongly warned Nigerians to desist from incendiary commentaries. The government should not wait until great harm is done to the peace and stability of the country before acting. This is the right time for it to rein in the purveyors of these hate songs and speeches. The increasing culture of hate speeches, hate songs and quit notices will plunge the nation into avoidable crisis if the government fails to act now.
We welcome the assurance by the Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, that the Federal Government is taking proactive measures to end the hateful and divisive speeches. The government should hasten in sending to the National Assembly the Executive Bill to curb hate speeches in the country. The bill should be accorded accelerated hearing and passage into law, provided that it does not gag the freedom of expression as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. The bill should propose punitive measures that can curtail the menace.
The mainstream media should also help to stop projecting individuals and groups that have been identified to use hate as medium of expression. A situation whereby the Nigerian media give generous mention, space and airtime to divisive rhetoric and individuals and groups must cease forthwith. It is only when you have a country that you can practice journalism or express yourself and be heard. This matter of hate speech is and should be everyone’s concern.