When President Buhari declared last month that the debate for restructuring of the country is in order but that those who were using it to incite violence had crossed the national red-lines, the President was particularly referring to some fictitious individuals who reel out unhealthy speeches against their perceived ethno-political enemies in the name of criticism.
To be sure, hate speech may be clarified as a speech that seeks to incite violence, hatred or discrimination against other people or groups, with particular reference to their ethnic and religious leaning; gender or sexual orientation, language, national origin or immigration status.
It is on record that during the build-up to the general election in 2015, some prominent politicians systematically designed a structure to constantly dish out hate speeches against their perceived political opponents in the name of campaign. The subsequent peace deal entered into between the then President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari for a troubled free election lent credence to the damage the hate speeches were creating to the political campaign activities.
But, ever since the inauguration of Buhari administration in May, 2015, the country had been contending with all manners of hate speeches among Nigerians, no thanks to social media and some unethical media outlets in the country. This has further heightened tension and threatened the unity, security and peace of the nation.
The activities of the recently proscribed Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, (IPOB), no doubt, elevated the pre-election scourge to a very frightening dimension. Kanu’s warped campaign against the Nigeria state entrenched the deep-seated hatred and division among the various ethnic nationalities in the country, which eventually prompted a response of the same magnitude from the Arewa Youth Forum.
While it is important in a democratic setting to have a diverse view about the development of the society, it is as well very unhealthy for such views to aim at creating unnecessary disaffection among the socio-cultural and socio-political divides of the society.
Hate speech has caused unimaginable damages to many nations in the past, including Nigeria. The Nigerian civil war which claimed over a million lives was said to be facilitated by hate speeches that preceded the undesirable scenario. The Rwandan genocide was also attributed to the same scourge of hate speeches.
The 2007 and 2014 post-election violence in Kenya, the Myanmar crisis which resulted to ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims minority among other instances around the world are linked to hate speeches.
It is very disheartening that in Nigeria, hate speech has become very pervasive, to the extent that it is now gradually becoming an accepted culture in the nation media environment.
While hate speeches on social media are understandable because of the anonymous privilege being enjoyed by the users, hate speeches on the traditional media such as radio, television and newspapers call for urgent attention.
Of course, it is encouraging to note that recently, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) sanctioned 23 radio and television stations across the country for hateful speech and vulgar lyrics which according to a report contradict the NBC code of conduct. This was aimed, essentially at maintaining ethnic cohesion, public morality, national security, social stability and cultural values.
In Kogi state, for instance, the spread of hate speeches are becoming very worrisome and seem to be undermining the government’s efforts at fighting the menace of insecurity. The opposition politicians and ethnic bigots have taken over the cyberspace and some traditional media outlets to unleash their unwholesome venom on their perceived political enemies, mis-informing the gullible Nigerians and spreading unnecessary resentment among the diverse ethnic nationalities.
Of course, as human being, giving a listening ear to people who are not well-intentioned would amount to one opening to danger.
President Buhari seems to have learnt fast about the garrulousness of most Nigerians and have slowed down in responding to parochial rabble-rousers.
The motives of such busy-bodies are usually couched in hatred aimed at simply running down even personalities and programmes of the government. They speak almost all the times on top of their voices simply to deceive some gullible Nigerians who know little or nothing about how government works. Most of these propagandists are out to incite the public against the government or possibly cause instability in the polity so as to discredit their targeted opponents. They neither wish best for the public nor the government in power. Their own interpretation of criticism is to insult people in government or those supporting the government.
This is not to say, however, that government at all levels does not have loopholes that need to be condemned. Indeed, there are many holes in the current over two-year-old Buhari led administration that demanded decent and constructive criticisms.
For instance, lack of decisive response/measure to permanently resolve the unending herdsmen/farmers crisis in many states; the wasteful and needless search for oil in Chad Basin; persistent silence on the recruitment scandal in many federal government agencies; unresolved inter-agencies crises under the watch of Buhari presidency and of course, lack of serious government commitment to revive the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Mill, among others, are issues which Buhari administration should correct. Such issues require strong and constructive criticism from the general public without implying any form of malaise or insult.
Unfortunately, ethno-political bigotries have forced the voices of reason to go into oblivion. The implication of this is that, governments would probably pay little or no attention to all dissenting comments on their wrongdoings because, they cannot differentiate the smokescreen from decent, objective and good intended opinions.
Constructive criticisms are those with good opinions aimed at providing alternative ideas to better the lot of the people. It is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards of any society.
Unknown to many Nigerians, most of these divisive critics are either those who lost out of power-sharing cum political influence or those whose ill-gotten wealths are under threat by the new policy of the current administration. Their wish is for the government to fail so that they can stage a come and resume their full-blown looting spree.
Some Nigerian media outlets are not helping matters as they allow these controversial personalities that exhibit a glaring disdain for a particular section or region to dominate their platforms to use them as tools to gain more reach.
The recent pronouncement by the federal government, categorizing hate speech as an act of terrorism is a proactive step in tackling the menace in the country that is fast becoming a divided society. While there are several available legal provisions that can justify the government pronouncement, as earlier explained by many commentators, Nigerians must be well informed about the danger of hate speeches to their very individuals and the society at large.
The government, civil societies, the media and religious organisations must take this very seriously by sponsoring and supporting the campaign against the spread of hate speeches before the 2019 general election.
As it stands, at least for now, hate speech is the major threat to a free, fair and credible election which may, in turn, undermine the corporate existence of Nigeria state if it is not well handled.