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Whose hate speech threatens national unity? 

By Martins Oloja
24 November 2019   |   4:20 am
There seems to be a correlation between pursuit of criminalization of free speech (hate speech) and Press Council Amendment Bill the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) and BON rejected outright during a public hearing on the bill... This concluding part of Inside Stuff’s submission to the Veritas University, Abuja (The Catholic University of Nigeria) on “Hate Speech…

[FILE PHOTO] Hate-speech

There seems to be a correlation between pursuit of criminalization of free speech (hate speech) and Press Council Amendment Bill the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) and BON rejected outright during a public hearing on the bill… This concluding part of Inside Stuff’s submission to the Veritas University, Abuja (The Catholic University of Nigeria) on “Hate Speech and National Security”, also speaks to the futility of pursuing another legislation against Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution… Read on…

As I was saying, seeking to criminalise speech making and advertising it as hate speech because it is unfavourable to powerful and strong men in a democracy can destroy the majesty of that democracy. Even in global context, democracy without free speech is a dictatorship. And no strong man has won any battle against free speech in history.

In other words, when people are no longer free to speak their minds in a democracy, there will be strong perception that, that democracy is in trouble. So, state actors who seek to demonise “free speech” as “hate speech” should not diminish democracy by seeking to pollute the finesse that enhances its majesty through unnecessary policy and regulation.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that constructive engagement or seeking justice in the courts of law is the fulcrum on which order and progress rest in a democracy, not through criminalisation of journalism or pollution of free speech, its most remarkable dividend.

Journalism is not a crime: it is a constitutional responsibility. In the same vein, the most powerful dividend of democracy is free speech that the people enjoy, not just tangible things such as roads and airports that even dictators and tyrants can provide too.

So, as we wave warning note to the authorities about the danger of attempting to tamper with free speech, it is pertinent to add that discussion points being interpreted as ‘hate speeches’ are matters arising from: deprecatory protests against marginalisation, the corporate existence of Nigeria, inequity, social injustice, ethnical and religious intolerance, unhindered ravages of Fulani herdsmen, complacency about restructuring of the federation or even the outright mediocrity in statecraft.

Besides, the war on corruption, a major part of the current agenda has been seen largely as one-sided as members of the ruling party, government officials and members of the “Kitchen Cabinet” are being shielded from the strong arms of the law.

So, as an iconic Jamaican artiste, Peter Tosh noted on ‘equal rights’ long ago, “everyone is crying out for peace, yes, none is crying out for justice”. Really, state actors, political leaders can cry out for peace through calls for war against their own version of “hate speech”, they need to do something about their poor performance in office too. They need to address extreme poverty and hunger in the land. They need to do something about culture of impunity, among other triggers of hate speech phenomenon.

You can’t charge a peaceful demonstrator, a freedom fighter who has not killed anyone with treason and ask herdsmen who kill hundreds of farmers, occupy their lands to go scot free and then expect “love speech” from their bereaved families.

In a complex federation as ours, where we have many nations within the nation, and six distinct geo-political zones, you can’t expect love notes and speeches from people when you as a leader have appointed 98 per cent of security, intelligence and even paramilitary chiefs from your own zones and religion.

How can Miyetti Allah, Cattle Breeders Association members be confessing to murderous activities that have created millions of refugees in their country and none of them has been questioned for their hate speeches but journalists and opposition elements are being threatened as terrorists for doing their jobs?
Would Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) send “love notes” to the prosecutors and Panel of Judges who sentenced five Christians to death for allegedly killing one herdsman in Adamama state when no herdsman is in detention for killing hundreds of farmers and seizing their lands?

Is it a hateful message when some look into the seed of time and confront reality by asking a question: Is Nigeria now a federal republic of cows? Is Nigeria really a cattle colony after looking at 2018 budget details and seeing 176 billion being budgeted for building cattle ranches in the country, N26 billion for building roads across the country and N500 million for Enugu airport renovation, for instance?

This is the construct Kayode Komolafe was pursuing when he noted the other day that coming to terms with the crude realities of what some thinkers have strangely dubbed the “post-truth age” as a global challenge.

Comrade Komolafe noted: “You don’t talk of truth when different sides in a dispute could create their own “alternative facts” to advance their respective arguments. Hate speech is justified as free speech. Prejudice against others on the basis of ethnicity or religion seems legitimised. The climate of hate becomes the new reality. In a way, Trumpism seems to be giving the inspiration to this universal trend. President Donald Trump accuses the mainstream media in the United States of publishing and broadcasting, “fake news,” yet he briefs his countrymen and women with his own “alternative facts” in his famous Twitter Account”.

In the same vein, can you call it a hate speech when a 70 years old veteran journalist, Chief Tola Adeniyi questioned the wisdom in throwing the toxic issue at the impoverished populace recently in an article published in The Guardianon April 3, 2018?

Chief Adeniyi former Chairman and Managing Director of the organic Daily Times wrote:
“What does Hate Speech really connote? Is it to direct Nigerians to live in self denial? Is it meant to teach Nigerians to call a spade by another name? Is it to call a blackboard white when actually it is visibly black? This kind of arm-twisting will not work in Nigeria of 198 million highly informed and incorrigibly vocal citizens. Nigerians may have been traumatized to the marrow, impoverished to the bones, and seriously humiliated and oppressed by the negligible minority wielding excessive power over them; they are not ever likely give up their freedom of expression. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Africa’s greatest music machine who sang ‘the padlock of my mouth is not in your hand’ would turn in his grave if he found that his kinsmen and women in Nigeria ever yielded to a draconian legislation that would turn them into slaves in their own land.

Let’s face it. How do you describe a gang of Stone Age barbarians who plundered your farmland, destroyed your crops, fed your tubers of yam and cassava to animals, raped your wives and daughters, massacred innocent babies and shot your husbands to death? The simple word for such animals in human skin is Terrorists! It does not matter if such marauding drug-addicted lunatics are your next-door neighbours or aliens from the moon or from the pit of hell fire.

How do we live with a bizarre provision in the Hate Speech Bill in which some ‘patriots’ in the 21st century, are seeking death penalty for offenders of hate speech and yet they are blind to menacing AK47-wielding marauders who are killing Nigerians in their farms and homes?.

There is no doubt that Nigeria needs death penalty but only for a tribe of people who have stolen our patrimony, who have eaten our tomorrow. Nigerians may not be opposed to death penalty. Death penalty still obtains in some states even in the United States, a bastion of democracy. There won’t be threat to unity and security of the country when those callous but seemingly protected herdsmen terrorizing fellow Nigerians with guns and machetes are lined up and given public execution too – when they are convicted.

That is why the angry Adeniyi also noted in his seminal piece:
“Death Penalty should not be for a harmless farmer who calls a thief a thief, or who calls the rapist of his daughter a rapist. If a Yoruba man goes to Sokoto to rape… he should be described for what and who he is. Such a person is a Yoruba rapist! He cannot be anonymous and should not be allowed to hide under anonymity. The Ijaw self determination groups do not hide their identity.

And when they blow up pipelines they own up and the Press describes them by their identity. If the Fulani terrorist militiamen are killing people in Taraba, they deserve to be described as Fulani terrorists. That is not hate…”
How do you talk of Hate Speech in this digital journalism age that citizen journalism rules though the social media? How do you enforce Hate Speech law in the world of the disrupters, notably, Google, Face book, Instagram,
WhatsApp and other forms of instant messaging Apps?

How do you enforce the so-called Hate speech policy in a global village when information now travels at the speed of thought? How does anybody prevent pseudo names and anonymous writings and postings? How do you stop all Nigerians in the Diaspora, in Australia, North America, Europe, Asia, etc from posting commentaries on Nigeria?
So, public intellectuals and columnists and opinion writers should like Adeniyi and Komolafe continue to interrogate how a nebulous rationalisation that, “one man’s hate speech is another man’s free speech” should be meaningful to the merchants and fighters of hate speech phenomenon.

Therefore, Public intellectuals and public affairs analysts should ask our state actors who operate on the platform of political parties to realise the need to overhaul their parties to play the organic role of political parties. They should formulate ideologies that even ordinary people can identify with. They should conduct civic education and public enlightenment that will promote love of one another and then national unity as we had in 1993 when a Muslim-Muslim ticket of MKO-Abiola and Babagana Kingibe was not opposed by even members of Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN). At their political meetings at Ward levels, politicians and leaders should reflect on the social consequences of their partisan, hate and fake speeches. Most statements from party secretariats do not promote public peace, let alone national unity.

Similarly, public affairs analysts and intellectuals should continue to emphasise importance of robust investment in education, not just funding. Only good education, yes good education will make us “easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave”, as Henry Peter Brougham noted since 1828. Most of our people lack sense of history of the country. Even some commentators, power elite, analysts and intellectuals don’t read Nigeria’s rich history, to deepen understanding of our complex federation nurtured by multiculturalism and religion.

What is more, we need to ask politicians to debate public issues beyond NYSC and PhD certificates of public officers. We should ask political leaders to account for appropriated funds to their offices and states. We should ask them why there have been huge education and development gaps between the North and the South. The huge gaps have consequences on interpersonal relationships and speeches we make casually. Therefore, we will continue to talk about good and bad performances, incompetence, corruption, laziness, mediocrity and other deviations of our leaders. They can’t legislate against that aspect of the majesty of democracy.

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