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Whose hate speech threatens national unity?

By Martins Oloja
22 July 2018   |   4:28 am
Veritas University, Abuja (The Catholic University of Nigeria) through its Centre for Peace and Development last week organised First Roundtable Discussion on the Theme, Curbing Hate Speech in Nigeria’s Public Space”. Find below an abridged version of the paper “Inside Stuff” presented on “Hate Speech....

Nigeria’s unity

Veritas University, Abuja (The Catholic University of Nigeria) through its Centre for Peace and Development last week organised First Roundtable Discussion on the Theme, Curbing Hate Speech in Nigeria’s Public Space”. Find below an abridged version of the paper “Inside Stuff” presented on “Hate Speech, A Challenge to National Unity” at the colloquium. We will continue the conversation on whose speeches actually threaten national unity, in this regard. Read on…

There has been some conceptual misunderstanding of the compound word called Hate Speech, which is threatening our already fragile national unity. I therefore understand this topic to mean that the Veritas University would like to build some groundswell of opinions that will defuse tension already building up in this already fragile nation. They want to solve problems. In its classical form, university education is to challenge concepts and solve problems (of society) through research. So, let’s thank the VERITAS University for fulfilling that sacred responsibility.

There have been many articles on the Hate Speech phenomenon in Nigeria, and curiously, most of them seem to assume that the meaning of Hate Speech is across (the) board. Strangely, even editorialists and opinion writers often pontificate on how to fight the bogeyman called Hate Speech without telling the reader what it is. Curiously too, there was no literature that the federal lawmaker who introduced the bill explained the basis for his action to his constituents before unveiling the toxic draft law. How then do we fight an enemy who has not been identified as a senior colleague asked the other day?

Typically, Hate Speech is any speech that is used to demean persons based on their identifiers such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and predispose them to acts of violence.
Some primary authorities such as Wikipedia agree with the above simple definition that Hate Speech is a speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

The laws of some countries describe Hate Speech as speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display that incites violence or prejudicial action against a protected group or individual on the basis of their membership of the group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected group, or individual on the basis of their membership of the group.The law may identify a protected group by certain characteristics. In some jurisdictions, Hate Speech is not a legal term. In some other countries, including the United States, Hate Speech is constitutionally protected.

Besides, in some governments, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. In this digital age, a website that contains hate speech (online hate speech) may be called a hate site. Many of these sites contain Internet forums and news briefs that emphasize a particular viewpoint.There has been debate over nexus that should exist between freedom of speech and hate speech (legislation).

The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. In the same vein, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) prohibits all incitement of racism.  

The big question even scholars and concerned people are still asking is this: What does the state, acting on behalf of society as a whole, owe to citizens when it comes to regulating speech or other modes of expressions?The danger we all face in this connection was well illustrated the other day by one of your own, Reverend Father George Ehusani who aptly captured the harm being done in the public sphere in his very deep Sunday Homily, Lux Terra. The Catholic priest noted among others as recently quoted by my brother Kayode Komolafe, a columnist: “Smart phones in the hands of ignorant persons could be dangerous.”

Mr. Komolafe too said, “This is not an anti-social media manifesto. Neither is it an advocacy against free speech. It is rather an admonition against the emerging culture of spreading lies, prejudice, distortions and hate using the new technology. Father Ehusani had in any case advised that before you “forward” to others a text or video that is laden with ethnic or religious prejudice you should pause to ponder on the social harm it could engender.

The danger in this hate-speech construct is there even in global context, we will discuss later but the way our public officers are introducing it here can be fearful and complicated to the extent of demonizing free speech advocates and believers. That is why today’s colloquium should address its contextual management in this fragile nation where public officers don’t measure and manage public opinion and perception. That is the way poor attitude to knowledge management here ruins a lot of efforts.

Between Hate Speech and Majesty of Democracy
The current concern about Hate Speech emerged through a careless declaration in Kano in March this year by the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who said Hate Speech would henceforth be treated as “terrorism” in Nigeria. That declaration had hardly been absorbed by concerned citizens when a bill that prescribes death sentence for Hate Speech makers surfaced too from a Senator.

Actually, the Information Minister’s Kano declaration in March this year came after the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had in January this year directed the nation’s security agencies to monitor the social media communications of notable Nigerians, to check the problem of hate speeches in the country.Yet, no one has doubted that the danger posed by unbridled propagation of “hate speeches” in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria is real. There hasn’t been any disagreement even within the society that continuing deployment of inflammatory speeches in the country can lead to a national crisis that can hit the fan. These hateful communications are injurious to the polity and the corporate existence of the country. The signs are there already.

By the way, the role of the media (being targeted in this missile) is not a donation by any government. It is expressly provided for in the 1999 Constitution as amended: Section 22 (as The Fourth Estate of the Realm), which watches over the other three Estates (arms of government). And no minister has any added role of defining and regulating it as there are regulatory frameworks for media practice and there are adequate provisions in the laws of the federation that protect citizens against any tyranny and corruption in the press.
State actors who are afraid of the media should note clearly that the world has gone beyond this pedantic approach to governance and teaching social responsibility of the media to its practitioners. 

Nevertheless, some citizens have frowned on the groundswell of political and religious opinions that can undermine unity and security of the nation.Specifically, more and more prominent citizens are expressing strong views against irresponsible journalism and politicking, especially in the social media where most citizens appear to have sought refuge to vent their frustration and anger about averageness, docility, unfairness, promotion of inequality and lack of tangible and measurable progress in the country. This is the crux of the matter: Yes, most times people express anger in harsh words across platforms. But that should not be seen as “hate speech”.
To be continued…