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What is hate-speech?

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By Obadiah Mailafia

Hate speech, Senate, Nigeria

WE live in strange times. Blatant travesties are being repackaged as wisdom and virtue while right is being made an object of derision and scorn. The new hate-speech law being proposed by the APC-dominated National Assembly is an obnoxious piece of legislation. It proposes to slam the death penalty by hanging for hate-speech especially through the social media. To all intents and purposes, they are elevating that crime to the same level as murder and high treason.

I humbly submit that this bill is not only evil; it is unconscionable and reprehensible in the extreme. And it is patently unjust in every material particular. I predict that it will fail for the same reason that St. Augustine of Hippo Regis declared long ago – that an unjust law is no law.

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The real target is not hate-speech but those who stand morally opposed to some of the excesses of this rapacious Leviathan. Some of these people have secretly been funding and protecting Boko Haram. It has been alleged that former insurgents are being allowed to worm their way into the ranks of our armed forces. They have also bought Keke NAPEPs for thousands of former insurgents that are becoming such a nuisance on Abuja roads. Most do not speak with Nigerian accents. They go about with daggers and sharp-pointed knives. They have hearts of stone.

Our latter-day converts against hate-speech have never acknowledged the murderous atrocities of foreign militia herdsmen that they have deliberately sponsored and imported for the purpose of boosting their electoral fortunes while permanently altering the ethnic geomorphology of our country. These militias have killed and raped and maimed indiscriminately. They have destroyed thousands of villages in Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Zamfara, Birnin Gwari, Enugu, Benue, Edo, Imo, Ebonyi and Ondo. They have taken over and dispossessed autochthones of their ancestral homelands. None of the foreign killer herdsmen have been arrested, let alone tried or convicted.

Most of the time our government turns a blind eye, pretending not to see, while the foreign Janjaweeds prowl our ancient savannah homelands; killing children, raping women and committing a blitzkrieg of rapine and violent destruction. In today’s Nigeria, foreign bandits can move into your village and kill your parents and rape your sisters and absolutely nothing will ever happen to them. And they say we mustn’t complain. If you do, they label you a hater of Northerners and Muslims. It is the most pernicious and most wicked form of moral blackmail. They are fighting an undeclared war against our people and we are never supposed to complain whatsoever. We are, rather, expected to accept our fate and die!

I realize, sadly, that Nigerians have lost their moral conscience entirely. In our age of Salafi fascism, thousands of innocent, unarmed, defenceless peasants can be slaughtered and no one will care a hoot.

The Western powers tacitly approve of it, because it not only reduces the black population; it prepares the ground for the disintegration of Nigeria, which is a prime strategic objective of theirs. The International Criminal Court, ICC, which should have been at the forefront of investigating these crimes, have been beating their way into the gilded pavilions of Aso Villa. Your guess is as good as mine as to what they are looking for. It is what I call the mystery of iniquity in our age.

One theory that is making the rounds these days is that the North have finally resigned to the fact that our country may eventually break-up. As a precautionary move, they are   importing Janjaweeds from Sudan, Niger, Chad, Mali and elsewhere to infiltrate the Middle Belt and the South; a high-stakes politico-military game of chess. When the South begins to react they would then offer to “withdraw” to the Middle Belt. We are thus mere pawns in their game. It is an irony that those who treat the Middle Belt peoples with such hatred and contumely are the same people who are insisting on the discredited fiction of “One North” – an idea that died long ago.

The UN has been at the fore-front of the campaign to legislate new hate-speech laws across the world. But we must be very careful here. It is not everything that the UN comes up with that we must swallow hook, line and sinker. The extant laws in operation in our country are, in my view, sufficient to deal with the matter.

The Electoral Act forbids engaging in political campaigns on the basis of ethnic or religious sentiments. Sections 95 and 102 of the Act specifically outlaws use of abusive slogans that injure tribal or religious feelings and prescribes a fine of N1 million for such offences. We also have extant libel laws that apply when anyone writes or says anything that is injurious to the person and reputation of a fellow citizen. The Nigerian Human Rights Commission equally denounces hate-speech during political rallies.

Hate-speech laws do not exist in many countries. They do not exist in the United States or in Japan. They tend to exist in countries where virulent political rhetoric has resulted in mass murders in the recent past, such as Rwanda and Kenya. In Europe hate-speech legislation is related to anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial, which remains a crime in countries such as Germany, France and Britain.

We cannot deny that there have been instances of hate-speech in our country. During the 2015 elections former Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shema allegedly asked supporters to attack opponents and to kill them like in the same manner in which cockroaches are quashed. Not to be outdone, Patience Jonathan was allegedly quoted as saying: “Our people no dey born shildren wey dem no dey fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throway for street. We no dey like the people for that side”. There are a lot of clerics in the North who openly refer to other people as “shegu arna” (pagan bastards). I have heard that kind of hate-speech right from my childhood to my mature age.

The issue is not whether hate-speech exists in Nigeria or not; the issue is whether we need new legislation against it. I am of the opinion that what is needed is tougher prosecution based on existing legal-constitutional provisions. We must go back to the imperatives of nation building.

The real intent of the new legislation is to muzzle the media while undermining civil liberties. The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has been at it for years. Newspaper editors and TV/radio broadcast stations live in fear of that dreaded phone call from NBC director-general. He was a friend I admired as a humane socialist and public intellectual. Never say you know anyone until you have seen the way they handle power. Our Roman proconsuls aim to reinforce the culture of silence while creating an atmosphere legitimising impunity. You can beat a child, but you cannot stop the child from crying.

A former chieftain of the APC in Niger State, Jonathan Vatsa, laments that the bill is as unpopular and draconian as Decree No. 4 of 1984 that was imposed by the Buhari/Idiagbon military dictatorship. He was quoted as saying: “We brought hate-speech to Nigerian politics and I am one of them. As Publicity Secretary of the APC, I know how we used hate-speech to mobilize Nigerians against the then ruling party. And it paid off”.

Those who ride the tiger’s back are destined to end up inside its stomach. Hate-speech is not our problem today. Rather, it is hunger, joblessness, destitution, impunity and exclusion. Those who are obsessed with hate-speech are ironically the real purveyors of hate. They are in fact our biggest problem. They will be judged harshly at the bar of history.


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