hate speechRecently, a legislative bill seeking to hang purveyors of hate speech upon conviction was sponsored on the floor of the Senate. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi (APC, Niger State), says: “Any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. ” Surely, this begs some serious questions: What is hate speech? Should purveyors of hate speech be put to death? (3) Who decides if a particular expression is hate speech? These questions certainly cannot be answered absentmindedly. Firstly, hate speech is any derogatory speech from one person or a group of persons, to another person or group of persons, on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic background, s3xual orientation, disability, or gender. Equally, it is important to understand the meaning of Dangerous speech, which is often confused with Hate Speech. Dangerous speech is any speech that incites a person or group of persons to condone or participate in violence against another person or group of persons. Secondly, we cannot yank off the head merely to cure a headache.
Death by hanging is certainly not going to end hate speech in Nigeria. If history has taught us anything, it is the fact that this extreme measure will only fuel Hate Speech the more, which could ultimately metamorphose into dangerous speech. Thirdly, I ask, who decides if an expression is hate speech? Nigerians in positions of authority and politicians generally have demonstrated, again and again, that power is nothing to them if they cannot abuse it. We have constantly seen, how people in these positions unfeelingly embark on a mission of vendetta, to settle old grudges with their political rivals, or people who supposedly bruised their ego.
Further, we have seen how continuous disregard for details by Nigerian leaders has repeatedly and increasingly created problems, rather than solutions in the country. Between June and December 2016, Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), a research-based institution in Nigeria, captured 6258 items of Hate and Dangerous Speech. CITAD noted, that while over 82 per cent of the hate and dangerous speech items were in response to statements made by others, religious and ethnicity constitute more than 80% of the data captured. Rightly so, the problems of national identity and religion have been perennial in our national history because some viciously egoistic mortals have dedicated their life, resources, and patrimony to polarizing Nigerians with those primitive narratives, simply to perpetuate evil and individually or esoterically aggregate our commonwealth.
In addition to religious-based and ethnic-based hate speech, there are other causes of hate speech like Poverty, lamentable economy, highhandedness and opacity in government, perceived marginalisation, politically discontent persons (pdps), injustice, political vendetta, Wrong approach by government to resolving communal crises such as the Shia conflict, herdsmen/farmers’ crisis, etc. All of these are reasons for the articulation and spread of hate-filled messages. It is, therefore, myopic, lazy, incompetent, insensitive, and grossly offensive for any lawmaker to think that proffering a superficial, extreme, and most likely diversionary ‘solution’ of hanging people for hate speech would solve the deep-rooted crisis of vitriolic and incendiary speeches in the country.
It is unfortunate, that our lawmakers do not even know, or perhaps care less, about drawing the lines between muzzling freedom of speech and curbing hate speech. Even more unfortunate is the fact that leaders in Nigeria are too lazy to do great work. Instead, they think lazily and work shoddily. On this perspective, the masses, the church, and the press stand at a great disadvantage if this lethal piece of legislation become law. Important to note, however, that this is not the first time the 8th National Assembly, president Buhari’s administration, and members of the APC would come up with something ludicrous. As a matter of fact, there had been many attempts, but let’s look at a few together. In 2015, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South), sponsored the Frivolous petitions (Prohibition, etc) bill, otherwise known as the anti-social media bill. But for public outcry and denunciation, the bill was thrown into the bin. Similarly, in July 2017, Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, openly declared his anti-fake news army to counter any perceived fake news on the social media.
The ruse behind the move was uncovered and the fake news army literally crashed. Again, in 2017, the Federal Government declared hate speech as terrorism. However, Nigerians did not take it lightly. Even so, towards the end of 2017, the military warned that it would start monitoring the social media – another move allegedly to curb hate speech which did not succeed because the people resisted it. It is therefore unsurprising that this ignominious bill was proposed on the floor of the Red Chamber. As a matter of fact, anyone who has been following the consistent display of dictatorship tendencies in the Buhari-led administration would have predicted this insalubrious bill. What baffles me, however, is how the same people – members of the ruling political party (APC), who campaigned virally using largely hate speeches, are now hell-bent on shushing the people.
- Raphael writes in via email@example.com.