One would have expected that the method recommended by the current Nigerian government in combating the increasing level of hate speeches was preventive and constitutional. Last week, Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbanjo, said that hate speeches now amount to treason. That anyone found guilty of making utterances capable of inciting the public will be given the treason treatment.
One would have expected something more like a bill signed into law after proper examination by the National Assembly. It didn’t happen. He simply made a statement that is neither founded nor different from what all the other leaders who governed this country ever said. He expected this reactionary method to be implemented immediately. He forgot about laws.
If a person incites the people with a speech laced with hatred and treason, what exact laws would be used in prosecuting such a person? The mere words of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, or the laws created to tackle such statement? Personally, I find it hard to believe that our leaders, both past and present, have no clue on how to solve hate speeches. They simply have no balls or will to fight the menace.
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The Professor is a very learned man and a student of law who understands how every serious democracy works. He understands that laws are needed to prosecute cases. He understands the intricacies involved in his submission and never bothered to clear it out. No bill was passed. No attempt was made in differentiating hate speeches from free speeches against the government or individual. Nothing was done in making sure that hate speeches are removed or minimized. His statement was typical of our leaders since this country was created.
Here is how to stop this thing from consuming the nation. You would need both preventive and responsive methods to counter it. You must answer the questions:
- Why do people make hate speeches and how do they arise in any democracy?
- Why are hate speeches on the rise in the today’s Nigeria?
- What can we do to stop the making of hate speeches?
Hate speeches arise from the overflow of hate in the heart of the individual making them. At first, the hate speaker simply internally hates a person but over time the hate matures and they utter them. In the beginning, the hate is internally built up until a platform is provided for it to be uttered. People hate for so many reasons. The success of a person could elicit hatred in a jealous fellow. The poverty of a person could elicit hatred. The attacks on a person could elicit hatred from that person too. But what we are dealing with here is simply the incitement of the people of Nigeria against one another.
The duty of any reasonable democracy is to operate a standard that doesn’t present its citizens the platform for hate speech. On that level, our government has failed. They’ve failed woefully in making sure there is no hatred. They have erected monuments that inspire hate in people. Hate is not entirely a bad thing. We hate evil. We hate the murder of innocent people by fellow human beings. We hate the unjust treatment of human beings. We hate the fact that the majority of our leaders are thieves and have zero leadership intelligence.
But what is responsible for the increasing level of hate speeches in Nigeria is simply the freedom to exercise hate among the nations and tribes in Nigeria since the country was formed. The process began when this country was formed and different tribes, through display of injustice, envy and pride to one another, saw hatred as the response to injustice, envy and pride. The government did absolutely NOTHING to quell the hate.
Today, the injustice, pride and envy increased and the speeches now come freely. To solve the hate, the structures responsible for promoting hate must be brought down. You can never achieve peace and sane speech where injustice abides. You can never end hate speeches without ending injustice.
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If any government plans to stop hate speeches it must first cleanse itself of hate speech. Having several Media Aides, whose sole duty are to serve as attack dogs for the government, while preaching the cessation of hatred is short-sighted. A people are not just only a reflection of their rulers but also reflect whatever their rulers do.
Secondly, they must define what constitutes hate speech. They must do this honestly and it shouldn’t be an attempt to shield themselves from the bashing of the people they have failed to inspire. In other words, the leaders must not execute or display any iota of double standards in eliminating hate speeches.
Third. They must look out and find those structures that are responsible for promoting hate speeches and close them through the right orientations and structures.
Fourth. Laws should be created to serve as punishment for people who, irrespective of the orientation and structures built to quell hate, still make them.
Before a clampdown on hate speeches commences we have to understand what hate speeches mean in the Nigerian and democratic context. Obviously, what real and civilized democracies identify as hate speeches are entirely different from what our ailing government defines as one. The fear that it could be a way to silence any opposition to the government is not entirely unfounded.
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When you factor the fact that funny names like “Clueless one”, “Hippopotamus”, “Otueke Fisherman”, “Ogogoro Master”, etc., was used to describe Nigeria’s former President, Goodluck Jonathan, by the members of the opposition party, now in power, you see that the idea is not entirely unfounded. We have to properly define what constitutes hate speech.
A village is attacked by herdsmen suspected to be of a certain tribe and the government reacts with silence and nothing more. The members of the community where the attack took place, out of anger, insult the government and the men they think did this. Does this qualify as hate speech?
Former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, during the campaign for the 2015 election made a very poor statement about the northerners and the Almajiri System. It was a very poor thing to say. But does that qualify as hate speech? Few weeks after Nigeria’s current President, Muhammadu Buhari, was inaugurated, he made a very poor statement about treating those who gave him 97% differently from those that gave him 5%. But does that qualify as hate speech?
Where do we draw line between what is termed hate speeches, criticisms and having poor opinion of a particular people? Is it only a hate speech when I criticise the government? That is what should have done before talking about prosecuting anyone who utters them. A bill ought to have been sent to the National Assembly where the matter is discussed before it is then passed and signed into law. As long as this was not done, whatever the government is talking about is simply lip service.