By Paul Orie
THE wind of hatred fuelled by stereotypes has continued to blow across the country unhindered. This lunacy over the decades is often celebrated joyously by different perpetrators in various parts of the country to spite others without thinking of the harmful effects on their targets who are largely from the sections of the country they hate.
More over, hate speech which is a significant part of this problem, has been a major troubling issue afflicting Nigeria with tremendous negative force, shaking the foundation of the country’s unity and further damaging the weak internal cohesion.
Indeed, the Federal government is jolted and visibly worried by this monster. This explains why Professor Yemi Osibanjo, when he was the Acting President, raised alarm as hate speeches started mushrooming with lightening speed, thus increasing the burden of governing a nation bedevilled by various malice. It is against this background that the Federal Government moved swiftly to threaten peddlers of hate speech with laws that will penalise culprits. The Acting president moved a step forward contending that the proposed legislation will declare offenders as terrorists. He added that, this act is a specie of terrorism. The Interior Minister, Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazzau, also threatened offenders that punitive measures will be taken against them once the Bill on the subject matter sails through the National Assembly.
As the problem of hate speeches is being compounded by the obduracy of the actors, the media have been held culpable for this sin. Some say the media provide the platform for the use of hate speeches while others added that it contribute 50 per cent of this nefarious act. Media practitioners cannot exculpate themselves completely from this nausea. They are deeply involved. Their involvement is not because of poverty as a reason peddled in several quarters. To me, the principal reason is that media practitioners are operating in a highly polarised environment. Nigeria is polarised along ethnic, regional and religious lines and editors, reporters and owners of the news media belong to the various sides of the divide. These are responsible for all the existing schisms in Nigeria which multiply daily.
A cursory look at opinion pages in all the major dailies and magazines including the electronic media, articles / commentaries are highly biased, pouring vernom on individuals or groups from other ethnic groups. In addition to these, the reportage of events are skewed in favour of the managers of the news media and their principals aimed at satisfying their various groups.
These are the disturbing legacies our founding fathers passed on to us, particularly the political parties founded by them which they used as avenues to channel their hate speeches not only to their political opponents, but to the tribes of the latter.
The political arena of the Second Republic, 1979 to 1983 was highly charged as a result of hate speeches, thereby balkanising the nation. Those hate speeches which were freely published in the newspapers and the electronic media equally splited several families, students in the higher institutions and market women. Then, Nigerian Newspapers were awash with hate speeches.
One can recall the daily column maintained by a columnist of Nigerian Tribune, other columnists of the same paper and news reports which carried scathing comments on the person of President Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria. Those comments were not directed to his administration’s policies, but to his person. He was even referred to as an illiterate on the pages of Tribune and Daily Sketch. The Hausa/ Fulani politicians were not spared by these disparaging comments in the South West Newspapers including politicians from this region. Late Chief M. K. O. Abiola was equally harangued by these papers for not belonging to Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN.
The New Nigeria Editors and their columnists equally responded with derogatory comments directed towards Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the most nasty manner. The Maigani column of Sunday New Nigeria and Candido column of same paper used all the period fighting the leader of the UPN and his Yoruba race. Indeed, it was a descent into hate which Nigeria politicians and their followers regaled themselves.
The Satellite Newspaper established by a governor of the Southern East was also deeply involved in the publication of hate speeches.
No one, particularly the political leaders attempted to caution or halt the vituperation against eminent Nigerians and politicians. Some Newspaper Editors lost their jobs because they could not join the madness. Those who retained their jobs were reassigned to Siberia.
That was the dilemma of media practitioners then which has not changed. Their hands were tied and the environment they operate remains polarised. From the foregoing analysis, media practitioners lack the freedom or independence to reject any offensive or obnoxious material for publication.
Readers should also note the interference of big shots from the presidency, party leadership, top politicians, business tycoons who exercise subterranean influence on the government. These powerful personages also impose articles, news materials and editorials laden with hate remarks on newspaper Editors.. All these compounded the predicaments of media practitioners who are afraid of hurting the political, regional, religious and economic interests of their employers who can fire them without recourse to Nigeria Labour laws. It is interesting to state that the writers of incendiary articles then were not in the employ of the media mentioned above. This, exposes the vulnerability of Editors, who could not reject harmful materials because of fear of reprimand from their principals. The plight of media managers have not changed.
The control of hate speeches or their elimination has become another obsession for the nation’s leaders who are already rattled by other pressing issues of IPOB, Arewa Youths threatening Igbos in the North, the palaver of Niger Delta Revolutionaries, the crippling economic headache defying meaningful solutions. What a stressful moment for APC Central Government.
It is worthy of note that the present Nigerian political parties 1999 to date are also guilty of hate speeches on a large dose. The 2015 electioneering campaigns were equally riddled with hate speeches and obscene language. It is quite amazing that the APC Central government has come out strongly to terminate hate speech, a running sore in our body polity. This is good news, but one has to remind the party, the Acting President who is irritated by this problem that his party reeled out a lot of hate speeches, almost outclassing that of UPN during the Second Republic. I have to stress that comments from Alhaji Lai Mohammed, former Chief Spokesman of APC, now the Honourable Minister of Information and culture during the months of electioneering campaigns were inimical to the political development of this country. Hate speeches were recklessly used then by both APC and PDP, disregarding issues that will bring succour to the electorate.
Without doubt, hate speeches either in our political life, in business, in our neighbourhood and office have placed us in perpetual state of antagonism. They have halted our march towards a coherent and an integrated nation. This is all the more reason why the call for national integration will remain elusive to us.
The attempts by the Federal Government to outlaw hate speech is a welcome development if pursued to fruition. Nigerians stand to gain from it because it will pave the way for love, unity, peaceful and stable nation. As we await a new culture that will herald a new Nigeria, the Culture Minister and his ministry, Nigerian politicians and their political parties should note that radio jingles from the Information and culture Ministry will not provide a soothing balm.
This is an arduous task which requires digging deep into all facets of hate speech, hate comments, cat calls, stereotypes in our daily life which our fellow Nigerian men, women, leaders of all categories including their children use in haunting other Nigerians. These acerbic remarks, called hate speech are administered to those hated in places of work, churches and schools our children attend. These are heart rending problems we harbour with calm. Legislative or Administrative fiat cannot halt, reduce or eliminate them.
This monster starring at all categories of Nigerian leaders – the politicians, the Federal Executive Council, the National Assembly, religious leaders, school management, should work in concert with sincerity of purpose to dismantle the things that breed frustration, aggression and hate.
The chasm among sections or geopolitical zones of Nigeria is widening. For example, the educational gap between the North and the South has not been addressed. In the North east education has been deliberately stagnated. This is a major problem. The dispersion of opportunities like citing of critical projects in parts of the country to the detriment of other parts, the deliberate policy to deny young graduates of certain parts of the country employment in the Federal bureaucracy are major sources of cleavages sprouting in Nigeria.
These are the proximate sources of anger among Nigerians who are being oppressed. This is why Nigeria remains polarise, thereby inhibiting the Nation’s march towards national integration. If the government is genuinely interested in eradicating this problem as exhibited by the Acting President, policy makers should come out strongly to create sense of belonging by addressing the points raised in the foregoing paragraphs.
What Nigerians need to confront this hydra-headed problem that has become a bug bear to the presidency, is to evolve a new orientation, a national culture that will make all categories of Nigerians embrace a common goal, aspiration and work towards their realisation. This is where the ministry of Information and Culture, collaborating with political parties, religious leaders and other bodies should strive to draw a National culture.
This a big job for the APC controlled central government. It should start building a solid new culture for successive administrations to build on and not only working towards 2019 to retain its seat in Aso Rock. Doing the contrary is a far cry from candour and reality.
Paul Orie, is a Public Affairs Commentator wrote from Lagos.