Hate speech in Nigeria: The crime within?

From the onset, wars and other conflict have been caused by hate speech which can be seen as a radical statement centered against a person or a group of persons which can lead to tension and conflict. The major wars in history from the three Punic wars which the Roman Empire won, wars by the Athens Empire, Sparta, Persia, Wars of the Roses by the house of York and Lancaster, the First and Second World wars, wars fought by the Oyo Empire, Ethiopian Empires etc all occurred because of the ugly incidents of hate speech. Recently, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 which saw the killings of Tutsis and Hutus were all because of some politicians who had access to the media calling other tribes cockroaches.

Source: Legit.com

Among the new things in Nigeria, hate speech is likely not to be one of them. The nation is agreeably the only country to have survived a civil war and is still on a daily basis attacked by its own politicians, journalists and even academics. Even before this nation became known as Nigeria, politicians have already questioned the state of the nation with early critics calling the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria, the mistake of 1914. This inevitably led to the 30-month civil war which led to thousands of people losing their lives and properties worth millions of pounds lost from 1967 to 1970. Also, there was the abortive Orkar coup of 1990 led by Major Gideon Orkar when he announced the dismemberment of Nigeria by excising five states in the north. Having survived all these crisis, inciting and harmful speech did not stop even though there was effort for forgiveness and reconciliation.

People in academics most especially the historians did not really help in the matter as some of them showcased the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria by the British colonial masters as amalgam of two unbalanced and mutually exclusive entities which is a Muslim North and a Christian South. The Media equally divided into north and south where each push towards achieving regional agendas rather than the collective agenda of the country. With the advent of social media, hate speech was afforded the chance to spread hate without restriction. Through the use of the internet which has grown over the years and which offers freedom of publication, provocative speech is on the increase and pioneers of hate speech can therefore publish content that can never appear in conventional media.

Various sections of people in the country go online to malign one another using unknown names and issuing deadly threats. From the south, the separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is on the frontline of these attacks. This group is led by Nnamdi Kanu, a Nigerian with British Origin. The group has in many occation use words aginst the leaders of the country and vowed not to stop until the soverign state of Biafra is restored. He has also called on his supporters to boycott elections in the country.

The Northern youths on social media are not left behind following these developments. Some youth from the north under the self-styled Arewa Youth Group made a declaration which came to be known as the Kaduna Declaration. They gave ultimatum to citizens in the north who are of Igbo origin to vacate from the north before 1 October 2017. This went viral on the internet, created a lot of controversies, name-calling, and offensive statements and attracted a national outrage. An Hausa song talking down on the Igbos and calling for violence against them was seen online and this added to the situation in a very negative way.

It is no doubt that due to the ease access to the internet it is being use for exploitation by terror and hate groups. With the freedom offered by the Internet, regional and tribal relations are becoming messier by the day in the most populous black-majority nation on earth. It is also difficult tracking suspects on social media because of the fake names and false addresses used by them. Equally, the weak security and judicial system in the country makes social media, a free space for terrorists, hate groups and cyber criminals. These social media platforms which were from the onset considered as vehicles of social co-operation are now becoming tools of national disunity. Until we collectively stand to fight against hate speech, the unity of this country will always be threatened.

Nigerian Government Response to the Hate Speech

The Nigerian government is now at the fore front of fighting hate speech. The president made it certain that the country would take actions to regulate hate speech of any kind most especially the ones on social media. The presidency also indicated that it was taking steps to legislate against hate speech and set up a special court to try people charged with that offence. The House of Assembly came up with a bill, which is now known as the hate Speech Bill.

The Hate Speech Bill

Source: Channels TV

The bill seeks to ensure justice for all Nigerians who are victims of hate speech. This is for those who were wrongfully accused and killed. The bill seeks to protect the lives of Nigerians against undue manipulations by mischievous elements in the society. We live in a hate-filled society in Nigeria and we need an existing law to address this.

The bill has prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of any person. The bill in its early stage of development seeks the establishment of an independent commission to enforce hate speech laws across the country. For offences such as harassment on grounds of ethnicity or race, the bill commends that the offender be sentenced to not less than five years Jail term or fine not less than N10 million.

While attempts to muzzle opposition should not be supported, a fair law legislating against hate speech in the interest of peaceful co-existence and public order would not be out of place or against the constitution of Nigeria. Even though the constitution guarantees the right to free speech and a free press, that right is not absolute. Free speech may be restrained for the purposes of public interest, public order, or public safety or to allow others to enjoy their rights under the constitution.

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