Hate Speech: Minding your language in Nigeria
The panel at the Vanguard Conference Hall yesterday propounded various reasons for the rise in Hate Speech in national discourse. Today, the panel discusses proposals by government to monitor Hate Speech in social media and concludes with propositions on how the spate of hate speeches can be curbed.
Aziken: What is your comment about government monitoring social media?
Akinnola: Well, I don’t think we can run away from monitoring social media by those in government. It has been on for ages, and it is obtainable in other countries of the world. There is no way the government will allow some things happen without monitoring social media. Even, there are some friends on your facebook or twitter who are security operatives, but you don’t know them.
Of course with the promulgation of the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015, that shows the government is interested in what is going on in the social space especially, the social media, though I agree that social media has its positive and negative aspects. But perhaps, it depends on how the government takes comments on facebook or twitter; probably some government personalities might take it personal. If you are in government, you will expect to be subjected to serious criticism and abuse.
Those in government should expect abuse, but they must learn to shake it off. Some years back, there was this thing on Thatcher being pelted with eggs. If it happens here, I am sure the security operatives would have opened fire.
I think you cannot run away from monitoring. Even when there was no internet, I remember during military once when I was arrested, they brought out my file and all my write-ups and interventions, even when there was no telephone. Now that there is a telephone.
I can tell you that there is no government that is not doing such monitoring even in the United States with ISIS everywhere. There is some software in the United States that when you post anything that has to do with ISIS, they have ways of locating you and you will be put on target. I think we should do what we can do and operate under the law.
The press freedom we got was not given to us on a platter of gold. We had to go to court through different litigations, and I recall that when Babangida came with Decree 43 of 1993, we went to court to challenge it and we won. So there is no government that will give you freedom on a platter of gold and maybe we have not gotten to that level.
Ekhomu: Monitoring of social media is a tool used in cyber intelligence gathering to know what is being said out there, what is being done and who is saying what. This happens in the cyber world. Anytime I appear on television; I get calls from my friends in DSS saying “Ha, Oga we are watching you; we don record am.” I say “thank you” and ask them to send me a copy if necessary. Most intelligence operatives in this country that I train have departments set up to do exactly that but the problem, like Agina-Ude again said, is: what do they do with information gathered in terms of intelligence analysis?
In the context of Nigeria’s social media scene, I would say yes, government must collect information through monitoring because that is what every responsible government does. But is it the place of the Nigerian military to come out and say “We are going to be monitoring social media?” I think that is just posturing and a way of saying they are important in the current scheme of things. I say this is unimportant because I can assure you, they are already doing this (monitoring).
But again, I think they also just wanted to sound off some people. Even Okupe’s government (Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration) did this. But remember, every responsible government like I said earlier, does this. In America for example, all your conversations are listened to, including your conversations here in Nigeria; and then they take what is important to them. If you then give some verbal clues that constitute a red flag, then your conversation is flagged, and you will be zeroed on. So, monitoring is normal. What I see as abnormal is somebody coming to say they want to start monitoring conversations now. That is, however, part of the Baba Salarisation I was talking about.
I do not mind government monitoring. I have written my column for the past 24 years, and of course, I have had brushes with the authorities; especially under military rule. But I do not mind that because I believe government has a duty to know what is going on in the country and to know when something could rupture the system, and then see what they can do about it. So, it is not the monitoring that bothers me but what government does with it.
Take for example a situation where somebody, let us say a Police officer, goes on social media and says “If Buhari dies, I will kill 200 people.” He said it, and he can do it, but nobody did anything to him. Nothing happened, and he got away with it. Suppose something like that happened (thank God it did not happen, and our President is back on his duty post), can you imagine what that statement made by that person who went scot-free, could have triggered in other mad people like him who have that kind of disposition. So, it is what government does with such monitoring that matters more than the fact that they are monitoring.
Nzeako:I will be very brief on this issue of monitoring because the experts who are more favourably exposed have said that governments all over the world do monitor and that Nigerian government has been monitoring. But this latest issue about the military grandstanding that they will do the monitoring was what brought the subject to the fore.
The social media is an instrument in the hands of the big and the small, the mighty and the low, as well as the intelligent and the unintelligent. It has become so free in the hands of everybody that if government is interested in known names, monitoring unknown names will be difficult. And then how do they also monitor those with pseudo names because pseudo names, addresses, and appendages can still be used to propagate what government does not want to hear. So, we are talking about both defence intelligence and civil intelligence.
And I want to align myself with the position of the panellists that what is of utmost importance is what government does with the information obtained. To what extent do such information help in, not only uniting the country but in ensuring that there is equity in the land, because in the absence of equity and reign of impunity, such monitoring, on its own, can be a ‘hate action’ on the part of government.
Quite honestly, I just want to say it was unnecessary for the military to come up with that statement; except if the intention was just to intimidate.
I laugh when people talk and do not know what they are talking about. The intelligence monitoring capacity that exists in this country is far above what the citizens can imagine. For example, under surveillance, I have been able to watch a man leave his hotel from NICON, go downstairs, pack his baggage into a car and drive to Abuja airport until he boarded his plane. And I was not anywhere near NICON. So, such capacity is what government has. So, talking about monitoring social media is just peanuts.
Even as far back as the 90s when I was in the National Republican Convention, NRC, we were preparing for an election, and we had a lot of money being brought to the Chairman’s house. I was the last person who left the Chairman’s house, and all the monies were in bundles bagged in Ghana-Must-Go bags. I left the place around 3 a.m, and the Chairman and myself carried all the money into his guest toilet and locked it up. And I left.
The next morning at about 7 am, I was driving back to Lagos, and I stopped at the office of a very top government official, and he said to me: “So if I come to your Chairman’s house now I cannot use the toilet?” I asked what he meant, and he said: “All your money was kept in the toilet!” I was stunned but frankly speaking, there are cameras that can go through walls without anyone coming close to your house to install them. So, government has immense capacity to monitor; and they do monitor. But you know, it is not everything government does that it intimates citizens about because some can be quite terrifying. I can tell you that 90 per cent of Nigerians are law abiding. So, there is no need to terrify them.
For example, too, I have always known that my phone is being monitored but it does not bother me because I know I am not planning any coup. You know, there are laws in this country, and there are ways information is gathered that they cannot be used against a person. So, people do not need to fear. I do not think it was really necessary at all for the military to grandstand on that matter.
Aziken: Moving on, it is better to love than to hate; thus, it will be better for us all if Nigerians love one another. As a closing remark, therefore, I would like us to make contributions on how we can heal the land.
Akinnola:Some of the contributors said some things in the course of our discussions that we need to reduce the tension in the country. The tension is so high that people are so edgy. You say something and the way they respond is weird. I believe that first, we need to reduce the social media exchange because that is where the tension is; and this is what ignites most of the issues.
And again, I have seen situations in which people deliberately concoct photographs against top government officials. There was a recent one against Buhari too. It was originally a video, but a snapshot was taken from it to reflect a different thing entirely. I was in Chatham House in the UK when Buhari came for an event. So, when he was coming out, they manipulated the video by putting a police van and some policemen with Keyamo in front, leading him out. So, as he was coming, it was like he was entering a Police vehicle. And then they wrote: “Buhari in Black Maria.” So, I think we should cool down on our social media exchanges and try to see how we can interface as a people, particularly from different parts of the country, and reduce our language.
Above all, I think information management at the federal level needs to be much more organized because you see one person saying something, another person countering it. Lai Mohammed will say a different thing, Lauretta Onochie will abuse somebody else, and more. At a point, I had to call Femi Adesina to make her understand she does not have to be rude to defend the President.
The communication strategy of this administration is not helping matters but raises tension unnecessarily; especially the communication personnel at the lower cadre. For example, it was Buhari’s Special Assistant on New Media who first talked about the rodents’ thing before Garba Shehu came to amplify it.
Agina: I do not think engaging religious leaders is going to achieve much. This is because, as we already know, in terms of religion, we are sharply divided. People now believe that whatever they (religious leaders) are saying is merely being said for the cameras. Bear in mind that the Muslim does not regard the Christian as a brother, and the Christian also does not regard the Muslim as a brother. That is for some people though; the haters. For most of us, it is neither here nor there. So, there is lack of sincerity among religious leaders.
But for genuine reconciliation that will bring down hatred and hate speech in this country, it is only government—whether Federal, State or Local—that has the arsenal to do it. They have the capacity to bring down tension in this country both by what they do and say if only they can take the lead. If for example the President, as the highest person in this country, takes the lead in making speeches that will make people love one another genuinely, and people see that he is not bitter against the Igbo people or any other group.
I remember Femi Fani-Kayode came up one day and said that before the elections, Buhari went to him and he said he would never forgive what the Igbo did to them by killing Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. That video went viral, and this is the President of Nigeria. And indeed, everything he said, he is saying, and he is doing, points to that. So, I think the bringing back of love into this country has to start from the apex leader. Let him come down from his high horse and pretend or whatever, that everything is okay. He should start preaching peace; not frightening people because all we get are threats. He is now a politician, and I think people close to him should advise him that he is a politician and not a military ruler anymore.
I want to give credit to the governors of the Southeast zone of this country. They are trying as far as dousing tension is concerned. To the extent that the Indigenous People of the Biafra (IPOB)’s boys are calling them saboteurs. Every unbiased Nigerian can see that in the east, everything is being done to douse tension. That is also why in the eyes of Nnamdi Kanu and his group, they are saboteurs. In fact, they are even referred to as Hausas for not joining the bandwagon.
If Buhari starts this reconciliation move now, he will be surprised about how far it can go in just two weeks. Nigerians need to see that he is not presenting himself as Hausa Fulani against the others. That he is a Nigerian, who loves all Nigerians. He should talk like that, make appointments like that and make actions to show that. Things will change within two weeks if he starts behaving this way.
I think I will like to say everything in one word—impunity. But I want to illustrate that word with a story. I went to visit my son in the US, and we were about to drive into a major highway. There was no policeman in sight, but there was a stoplight that indicated ‘Stop.’
So I was like “Why are we waiting; let us go since nobody is here.” But my son objected on the ground that doing such in America will earn him a fine which he must pay.
The point therein is that people will obey when they know they cannot do anything bad and go scot-free. Look, there is nothing wrong with Nigeria except for feeble leadership and bad followership. Hence, there is one agency that is broken that worries me, and that is the Police. If those guys can start arresting people who make irresponsible comments and all that, in less than two weeks, Nigeria will be straight again.
Nnanna:Just as most of us here have pointed at leadership, for me too, the whole thing goes down to leadership. Before we elect anybody to be President of this country, starting from 2019, let us look at the person’s track-record because everybody has a track-record and a past. Let us look at his utterances, things said under pressure or certain circumstances, and from that, we can decide whether such a person is fit to be Nigeria’s President.
This is important because what Nigeria needs is a unifier. Someone who will get into office, take his due and give to others what is also due them; not take his own and my own as well, with the belief that the country belongs to him more than any other person.
The day we have a President who carries everybody along equally and gives to everyone a sense of belonging, particularly by ensuring every part of the country benefits from projects in the budget, hate speech will come to a naught. The reason we have hate speeches here and there is simply because the kind of leadership we are having right now is promoting it.
One thing I have noticed is that anytime we bring back somebody who played a prominent role in the Nigerian civil war, an anti-national unity atmosphere creeps in very quickly into our polity.
Look at what happened during the time of Yar’adua. When he came in, although his Kitchen Cabinet comprised mostly of northerners, he did give everybody their due. It was under Yar’adua that the Onitsha Ports were dredged and its reconstruction started by Shagari was taken up. It was under him also, through the prodding of Governor Peter Obi, that the oil wells seized in 1976 from the old Imo State were returned to Imo and Abia States, with a promise to start giving them their benefits as oil-producing states. So, it has little to do with tribe but individual.
Finally, it is important for us to revive the National Orientation Agency. I remember government did a lot to enlighten people about so many things, including how to cross very busy roads, when we were small. But government does not do anything anymore about enlightenment and reorientation. The National Orientation Agency which has branches all over the county is just collecting salaries for doing nothing. It is at a time like this that we need them to be very active in orienting Nigeria about the right way of doing things. But this is the time they have chosen to go quietly.
Nzeako:There is this age-long saying that the fish rots from the head and that saying is still valid up till today. When you go to the stream, and the stream is spoilt, the rest of the things you get from it will be bad; I think that is partly what we are seeing. Thus, we need to critically orient the political actors in Nigeria, starting from the President to the last Councillor. A lot of them do not know the difference between an electoral campaign and a hate-speech campaign, and the process of delivering good governance.
Even though the National Orientation Agency has been sleeping, we still have many vibrant non-governmental organizations in Nigeria, with whom government has failed to partner. It is the duty of government to engage these NGOs to assist the orientation agencies to go to the people and gradually water down all the hate innuendos we have in the system.
Finally, who are the people doing this? Some are the youths, especially the young ones who do not understand historical facts concerning Nigeria. These people will very easily jump on the social media to cause a lot of hate. Some of them are quite brilliant and what I expect government to do is to engage them meaningfully. That might be in the realm of economic development, but it is all-encompassing because we cannot arrest the situation only by arresting the people. We have to encourage love by so many ways to ensure that Nigeria is a better land.
Okupe:We are all Nigerians, and it is clear that we are dissatisfied with the present situation. It was even President Buhari who said years ago that this is the only country we have and we cannot run away. And indeed, some of us have become too old to run from anything. So, we have to find a way. My work with various governments exposed me to the hopelessness in the society, and I think that before the next election, some efforts should be made to address a few of the issues dividing us; and we really must do it in an institutionalized way.
Bible tells me that only righteousness exalts a nation. In this country, there is too much lying and deception, and consequently, there is massive satanic influence. And that is what we are observing. God will not be comfortable in any nation where truth and justice do not prevail. If you punish people with government power, it has to be very clear that you are not doing the correct thing. This is important because although those people may not have the power to retaliate, there is somebody who fights for them, and that is God. I think our government and politicians must stop lying.
For instance, people talk about restructuring and somebody says there is nothing to restructure. That is very untrue because if there are 10 things to share among six people and one person takes nine, how will the others be contented? I have been at every level of governance in this county, and I have always said it and will continue to say, that majority of our politicians are liars who deceive themselves and the people. People are being cheated in the country, and some others are saying there is no problem with the country; that is a lie. If there are 250 permanent secretaries in a country and 220 come from one side of the country, that is unfairness and such cannot allow peace.
If Lagos State contributes 55 per cent of VAT to the whole country and at the end of the day, after sharing, it only earns 15 per cent, that is not fair. As long as we continue in unfairness and injustice, things are not going to work. Several years ago, Kano State had 20 local governments and Lagos also had 20. Today, Kano and Jigawa have 77 local governments while Lagos State has 20; and you say there is no problem? There is a problem, and we can tackle that problem by simply discussing it; not fighting.
My recommendation, honestly speaking, is that we should take this reconciliation thing very seriously because without it, even if you vote, rig and win, the trouble continues. History has shown us that no matter how a people are held down, at one point or the other, there is a conflagration and everything is scattered. So, I want to suggest that we should have a ‘Truth, Reconciliation and Unity Commission’ and I think the best person in this country today that can head such organization is General Yakubu Gowon, for so many reasons. He is one of the oldest military Presidents, and he is a very sedate, fair-minded human being. We can then add some retired judges, religious leaders, socio-cultural groups, youth organizations, women organizations, legislators, relevant NGOs, party leaders, and more. Let us take positive steps and agree that this land needs to be healed; we cannot just sit down and pretend there is no problem.