Hate Speech: Minding your language in Nigeria
The panel at the Vanguard Conference Hall yesterday gave varied depositions as to the justification or otherwise of a law to regulate Hate Speech. Today the conferees propound reasons for Hate Speech making.
Ekhomu: I think the primary cause of hate speech is impunity. People commit a crime in this country without being punished, and everybody has referenced that here. If you can commit a crime and get away with it, then you won’t bother about the consequences, you just get away with it. In fact, we are status drunk in this country, and we don’t even know what to do with the status. And unfortunately, the Police have been unable to do their work, so what do you expect?
Also, the arrogance of the political class, the winners and losers syndrome and all that. Ignorance also plays a role here because sometimes we don’t know what we are talking about and that is where the media comes in. The media is not calling out people who seem to be ignorant or people who use bad terminologies or who speak bad grammar. We don’t call them out especially the people in public office. We have to understand that speeches from the throne matter, they are powerful, so you don’t let people who sit on the throne talk anyhow, you call them out. Speeches from the throne do matter, but because the majority of the media organizations won’t do that simply because they want to get advert patronage, they don’t want to be blocked from entering State House, so they look the other way round, that is irresponsible. I do not agree to that; the media have the power because many of us cannot do anything even if we speak our English from today till tomorrow, it is only the media that they fear. So, it is really unfortunate, and we have to start calling people out for ignorance because too much of ignorance is entrenched and embedded in this country and we should stop it.
Nnanna:The way I look at it is that hate speech is usually a function of the stimulus which was projected from the throne. I want to give you two examples. Barely eight years after the civil war, the National Party of Nigeria, elected Alhaji Sheu Shagari as the Presidential candidate and the NPN zoned the vice presidency to the South-East, a
part of the country that was involved in the struggle against the rest of the federation then. The NPN under the leadership of Shagari decided to reach out to the Igbo and bring them into the mainstream of Nigerian politics though there were people who were not happy with that, they felt that these people who fought against the rest of the federation, they are making them vice-president already. But what was the effect of what Shagari did? A lot of Igbo people started having a sense of belonging. Even the Nigeria’s Peoples Party who had Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe as its presidential candidate was encouraged to go into an alliance with NPN which was mainly a northern led national party.
So, the two sides were able to cohabit into an alliance at least for the time. What was the effect? The Igbo started having a sense of belonging to the extent that the two Igbo states then left the core Igbo party and joined the party at the center, and there was already a speculation that by 1987, we were going to have an Igbo President in the person of Alex Ekwueme if not for the coup that took place.
So, what I am trying to say is that Shagari’s government was a government that encouraged national unity and they even offered pardon to Ojukwu, they brought him back to Nigeria to be part and parcel of the country, and he was carried away that he joined politics and even joined the party, (NPN.)
Secondly, let us look at this Buhari government. Buhari came in as if he was going on a vengeance mission, somebody who had contested a presidential election three times and failed, then this time around that he won, he is behaving like those people who did not support him are his enemies.
That is wrong and if Buhari had the same mindset like that of Shagari and stretched his olive hand to the South-East and South-South, even the economic recession wouldn’t have been as bad as it is because the Niger Delta militants would not have gone to war and Biafra agitation would not have been this bad; after all, the agitations have been there since the presidency of Jonathan, but people ignored it. But because of the way Buhari has behaved as if he is going on a vengeance mission, so it brought about the whole issue we have at hand now whereby the North and the East are now seeing each other as enemies. We must let our leaders know that what they do and say matters a lot about national reconciliation and national unity.
For example, the Arewa Youths have done unimaginable things by asking the Igbo to leave the North and even did a hate song, nothing happened to them, and a minister and a governor made a case for them. The Inspector General of Police makes a case for them, they turned around and attacked the people who are agitating and doing their peaceful protests, they are calling them terrorists, that cannot promote an atmosphere of unity, love, and patriotism.
The people who are in Abuja need to know that what is happening was caused by them and only them can settle the issue not just by arms. No matter the number of Army they send to go and terrorise a part of the country, it is not a show of force but a show of cowardice.
Nzeako:One of the major reasons for hate speech is the failure of governance. The government has failed to nip
problems in the bud with respect to issues surrounding the hate speech and the problems we find ourselves. The issue of MASSOB has been in the trenches for a long time but it was essentially ignored by most Nigerians, some even saw him as someone trying to carve a niche for himself including a frontier of profitability until Nnamdi Kanu now founded IPOB, also in a bid to carve a niche for himself and it was essentially ignored until the government mishandled Nnamdi Kanu’s issue by not attacking the substance of the young man’s issue; instead there was a generalisation that all Igbo are in support of Nnamdi Kanu.
The very moment government started thinking in that direction, government derailed, and they took Nnamdi Kanu and locked him up without trial. All the while he was in detention without trial, he was gradually generating sympathy both spoken and unspoken. Instead of government to take him to court, the government charged him with terrorism. That was an allegation on the part of the government, trying to do an overkill thinking it will deter him. But instead of deterring him, it has made him more popular. Somebody who ordinarily would have been a misdemeanor, his case is now like that of a political prisoner of conscience, and that was how the world started hearing about Nnamdi Kanu, and suddenly the young man started generating a life that is larger than ordinary, so it is a failure of governance.
Also, there is this domestic xenophobia that has crept back into the life of Nigerians. Where the man from the North will be seeing the man from the South as an enemy, and the man from the South now sees the man from the North as his own enemy. That brought back the issue of the 1990 coup of Orkar and his group whereby they tried to say a particular section of Nigeria should go up North and belong to Chad, Niger and the rest of them while the South should belong together. The recent utterances of government have brought that back and now. There is this domestic xenophobia that the South-East and South-South should be trampled upon, and if the person at the throne does not begin to reverse that trend, then the hate speech will continue to fester.
Also, there is this problem of low-level education, and other panellists have mentioned that. This can be intertwined into a low level of awareness, low level of enlightenment and low level of illiteracy. By the time you begin to look at these things holistically, you will realise that we still have a long way to go and the only option we have is to try to plant the seed of love. If we plant the seed of love and with restructuring, things are going to change.
Okupe:I want to say that hate speech has always been with us. It is just that those days, the influence was limited and restricted to beer parlours, buses, universities, etc. But social media came and changed all that. When you
make a hate speech, and you are a nobody, nobody is going to publish that but now with social media, once you have a phone, whatever you say can be read nationwide. That is what has magnified what already existed, and it has since moved into an un-imaginable measure. So social media is a major vehicle that propagated hate speech beyond reason. I believe Nigeria has also suffered a tripartite demon because somehow we have romanced very serious deep-seated hatred and I don’t think anybody can do anything about that right now. We have gone beyond caution and reasonability. Things that have been said in the last one year, I haven’t heard in the last 40 years, and when words are spoken, even when you said it is over, it doesn’t get over. It has been spoken and written, and they are available for the records and friends to have become enemies because of situations like this.
We have crossed the line, it does not matter whether we accept it or not, we deliberately and seriously hate one another, we might not accept it but it is the truth, and it has gotten to the level of our children, unfortunately. Another thing that is promoting hate speech is class war; there is so much disparity between the rich and the poor in this country. It is not even as the issue of disparity; there is a lot of hopelessness associated with poverty among the downtrodden. You can be poor and still feel you can make it but we are making it look today in Nigeria that you can never make it. When people feel like that, evil sentiments set in and hatred begins against the system, so when you talk of Okupe, people will say these are part of the people stealing our commonwealth, that useless man and someone will even say let thunder kill all their families. It is gone beyond reason because every day, you will hear Diezeani stole 90billion, somebody stole 69 billion and somebody has 1,700 houses, and you are living in a hut and there is no way can earn a living, in such situations. It is hard to love in that kind of environment. We haven’t seen the best of such situations, if I am waking up in the morning, and where I am sleeping, there is rain coming in and wetting my bed and I am praying that God let this rain stop and I wake up in the morning with nowhere to go and I got to the bus-stop and picked a paper and I read government has recovered 68 billion pounds, if at that point you have a gun, you will be ready to shoot anybody. It goes beyond hate speech, and that is what we are going through right now.
The third thing is very sad. They only said we had crossed the red line, but I can tell you that we have crossed all line; we have crossed purple, red, green lines not just red. There is so much religious animosity and intolerance now. A Christian sees a Muslim as his enemy, Muslims see Christians as enemies, and if I am on this seat, I cannot allow my deputy to be a Muslim, and I am not going to allow a Christian be my boss. It is something we see on a daily basis, and for us to be able to get out of this, it will take more than all these draconian steps and all these statements, it is not going to help. I also don’t believe people should wait for government, those who love this country, elders in this country and people who God has blessed in this country, people who God has been kind to through money and knowledge, some of them should now dedicate their time in healing this nation. All these hate speeches is a societal frustration, there is frustration among the rich, there is frustration among the poor, even among the people in government and the governed, every facet of our existence is associated with frustration, so we have to bring God into Nigeria.
We have to fast, and we have to begin to love one another, and we need to ignore the majority of the things government are doing and see how we can move the nation forward. I have served two governments, and I had two terrible experiences.
One day, I was about to enter Nicon Hilton in Abuja, and General Gowon and his wife were just a little ahead of me, they were just about to enter into the security section of the hotel and a young man about six foot tall was coming from the tennis court because he had a racket in his hand. He was so much in a dreadful hurry, and he nearly knocked down General Gowon, but I used every strength I have and held him by his back and pushed him asides and he looked at me and asked whether I am crazy. I did not answer, but both Gowon and his wife passed gently without knowing what happened. I said to myself that this is a man whom I knew as a child that when he was having his bath, the Dodan Barracks Road was blocked to Ikeja and he was just about to be knocked down by a nobody.
So those of us who want to be in government or have been in government must always have it at the back of our mind that today, you can be a big man and tomorrow you might just be a nobody as I am now. And it will affect how we relate to each other. Like this law on hate speech, it should not be that Osinbajo or others in government are angry because they are abusing them, it must be that whoever occupies this position must not be subjected to this kind of situation. In situations like this, we may have to come together and talk, and I believe those asking for restructuring are not foolish.