The Upper Crust

Hate is the problem, not the speech


With Uche Nnadozie

The bill on hate speech has bounced back to the National Assembly. In
the Senate, Abdullahi Sabi a senator from Niger State has proposed a
commission to tackle hate speech. The bill has passed first reading.
But the people are not having it. They say it is an attempt to gag
their freedom of speech. Naturally, the merits or otherwise of such a
bill is hidden away while antagonists and protagonists continue to
attack each other based on their partisan interests. Even worse is the
fact that people find the other bill on social media regulation as the
same and one thing with the hate speech bill. No they are not. And I
will explain.
It is difficult to go against the tide, especially if what is under
discussion has to do with the media.  As someone who operates in the
media space, it looks like suicide if one comes out to “support” a
bill which in the thinking of what seems like the majority- against
free speech. However, seeing the deliberate and sometimes ignorant
anecdotes, memes, suggestions, innuendos, etc it is important to shed
a bit more light on hate speech so that we better conceptualize what
it is we oppose. But first, I do not know how our senators operate
when they have a member’s bill to legislate on.
For example, how is it that a legislator in Nigeria finds it difficult
to sell his or her piece of legislation to the public more over if the
bill is such that clearly elicits public opprobrium? Sitting back and
waiting to see if the people will support a controversial bill is
tantamount to abandoning one of the critical functions of the
legislature which is representation. Will you be representing people
who disagree with your move? What you say is good for them but they
reject, yet you keep pushing? Is it bad to explain exactly what hate
speech means and the problems it has caused the country and other
countries even as way back as in the 1960 in the case of Nigeria and
to 1914, 1939 in the case of Europe or the world?
Hate speech should be seen as what it is: hate! Adding speech to it is
just to explain the means. Hate speech has nothing to do with free
speech. As a matter of fact hate speech stifles free speech. Hate
speech speaks to the innate hateful feelings that bring about bigotry,
incitement towards a group of people because they are so described.
Hate speech therefore is the deliberate incitement or prejudice
through words, pictures or writing which incites people against
another set of people as a result of their gender, religion, ethnicity
or physical deformation among others. People deliberately chose this
strategy in order to inflict commotion within a political system. It
is different from free speech or in fact slander and defamation.
I have seen people on social media digging up statements or even
photos to depict hate speech. No! Somebody calling Buhari or Jonathan
a goat is not hate speech. However, somebody saying Igbos are products
of “baby factory” and as such deserve to be killed is typical hate
speech. The idea is to incite hatred against a group because they are
members of that group. Then the speaker of writer uses an offence of a
few to generalize in a way that again causes other people to hate and
ready to inflict injury. The same way people say “Fulani” herdsmen are
killers and kidnappers, and then wait for any killing to attribute it
to herdsmen or Fulani, then turn around to call on the President to
call “his brothers” to order. What narratives like this does is to
make every Fulani look like murderers and indeed the president who is
Fulani shields them. This then causes serious discomfort in the
polity, suspicion sets in, and hatred sets in against the Fulani. This
can lead to war or pogrom. Like we saw in Nigeria months ago,
communities began to ask the Fulani to leave their communities and
return to their homeland.
Hate speech starts innocently. Those who are adept in it take their
time. You may not notice but the hate will keep growing. Hate speech
is enhanced by fake news and weaponization of information. None of the
two concepts is good. They are both used to feed hatred and in a
multi-ethnic nation like ours, coupled with our average national
education capability; it is an inviting option for queer political
partisans who must anything to try to gain power. But every seed of
hate sowed will take more than a generation to curb. Come of the
hatred sowed before and during the civil war in Nigeria are still
hunting the country.
Part of the factors that led to the Nigerian civil war was hate
speech. It also led to the World Wars. Then it was not well described,
however, the pogroms were necessitated by unbridled circulation of
hateful slurs on both sides. The characterization by Nnamdi Kanu of
IPOB of some Nigerian ethnic groups as slaves who needed to killed or
cows that needed to be slaughtered are classical hate speeches. He was
deliberately driving his followers to hate other Nigerians and he
succeeded. They were at that point where they had prepared mentally to
attack people who did not support their agenda on the basis of ethnic
bias. Also he had created so much toxicity in the public space that
other Nigerians began to hate Igbos whether they support IPOB or not.
This was what led to the ultimatum handed down by some misguided
northern “youths” giving Igbos three months to leave the north. That
is what hate speech leads to, it is in no way free speech or
defamation. But I do not support the setting up of a commission to
decide what hate speech is, let the court decide. I also take notice
of the fact that in the cybercrime law, some of the issues have been
addressed. But it is not a bad bill; we can look at it more critically
rather than jump the gun. Many European countries have designed laws
to tackle hate speech. No, the bill is not food, but if hate speeches
seize our land, there will be no hungry man, everyone will be fighting
to be alive.

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