Wars without blood: Should hate speech be criminalized? (I)
Hate-filled profiling seems to have reached a new high in the current democratic dispensation with Nige-rians apparently revelling in pouring invectives on one another whenever they discuss the Nigerian condition. The triggers for such warring with words are often predictable: if it has to do with the Civil War, Igbo nationalists will square with the rest of the country; if it is about Boko Haram and its alleged sponsors, self-appointed defenders of the North will be up in arms with equally selfappointed defenders of the South; if it has to do with resource control and oil politics, the North squares it with the South-south. The Igbos and the Yorubas frequently pick on each other as we saw recently with the alleged deportation of Igbo destitute from Lagos. In these exchanges, religion, region and even town union politics are all sucked into them.
Reading through the ‘ comments’ that follow most articles published online, especially on contentious political issues one cannot help but marvel at the capacity of educated Nigerians, including Diaspora-based ones, to write from their base animal instincts. Hate speech is so pervasive in Nigeria that it is doubtful if there are many Nigerians that are completely free from the vice.
Hate speech employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, region, gender, sexual orientation or other forms of group membership. It is any speech, gesture, conduct, writing or display which could incite people to violence or prejudicial action. The wide prevalence of hate speech in the country has given rise to concerns that the profiling that is embedded in such speeches could aggravate the structures of conflicts in the country and complicate the nation-building process.
Ironically regulating hate speeches may be counter-productive as it could conflict with the free speech principle on which any country’s democracy project is based. Hate speech therefore presents the country with the Devil’s Alternative.
True, free speech - the ability of people to speak their minds without censorship - is never absolute in any country even in the most mature democracies such as the United Kingdom or the USA. But it is often seen as a necessary condition for the enjoyment of democratic ideals as it provides and guarantees the space for public discussion and debate. It is also argued that it is only through an unfettered competition of ideas in the political marketplace, including ideas that shock and awe, that the truth could be discovered. Free speech is equally regarded as an aspect of self-fulfilment – a value to be enjoyed for its sake. Additionally, free speech proponents argue that citizens harbour such a strong suspicion of the government that any attempt to regulate free speech will only heighten that suspicion.
Below are selected hate speech-laden comments from three recent stories in the media:
1) ‘ The bitter truth about the Igbos’, by Femi Fani-Kayode
This was an ethnic bile-loaded article published on Premium Times on August 8, 2013 and reproduced by several media in the country. The article, written by Femi Fani Kayode, a one-time Minister of Aviation during Obasanjo’s civilian presidency, was apparently spurred by an alleged ‘deportation’ of Igbo destitute from Lagos and claim by former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzo Kalu that the city of Lagos is a ‘No Man’s Land’. The article renewed the media war between the Igbos and the Yorubas following the publication of Chinua’s Achebe’s controversial book, There was a country.
Selected comments on the article (unedited): ‘ Truth is bitter’ Once upon a time they claimed that they were “Jews” and that they “migrated” from Jerusalem, then they claimed “there was a country” when in fact they were dreaming by river Niger, now the new figment of their imagination is that they “own” Lagos. “Igbos do not have the capacity to disintegrate this country: as a politician, we are used to the antics of the Igbos. Preceding every election, they will make such claims, but once the election comes, they will fight to be vice president, Senate president and minister. So for me, the Igbos can make all the claims they want to make, but they are not going to disintegrate Nigeria. The first attempt to disintegrate Nigeria was precipitated by the Igbos, and till today, they are still suffering for it. So, I’m not sure they would allow the same mistake to be made the second time.
All the villages in Igboland are better than towns in Yorubaland. I dare you to go to igboland villages and compare it with Ibadan that have rusty zinc and Ibadan has been a capital since the time of regional government.
Go to Nnewi no town in this country house the kind of industry that was solely built by Igbos. Go to Aba you will see the wonders of Igbos. Go to Abiriba reputed to be small London. When igbos was denied airport they built their own with community effort through the able leadership of De Sam Mbakwe. You are a bush man you don’t travel the only place you know is Lagos and am sure that you are a visitor in Lagos like some Igbos. Igbos have claimed their contribution in Lagos which is obvious. Now I dare you to point to me any revenue generated economic base develop and built by Yorubas in Lagos or anywhere in Nigeria. Yes Igbos have menace of kidnapping so also Yoruba. Let’s check EFCC and compare lists of corrupt suspect Yoruba top the list.
To remind you that Igbos started afresh to build their economy after civil war with only 20 pounds. But Yorubas are still crawling in development. The only place they claim is Lagos which was developed with the help of Igbos. Today they are praying for Igbos to go back to their land
so that they can claim their investment shame on you !!!!
2) ‘Why Niger Delta oil theft can’t stop, by Boyloaf’
In this article published in the Vanguard of September 7 2013, one of the ex-militant leaders in the Niger Delta, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, alias ‘General Boyloaf’, was quoted as saying that oil theft in the Niger Delta would not stop until the Federal Government takes appropriate steps to compensate the natives of the region. Boyloaf said that oil theft soared in the region because the owners of the land where the oil facilities crisscross did not feel any sense of belonging after many decades of oil production. Boyloaf was further quoted as saying: “Let me seize this opportunity to appeal to our northern brothers not to mistake our resolve to maintain peace in the Niger Delta region as a form of weakness. Nobody should blame our people when they react forcefully on issues associated with these matters and many other unwarranted attacks on our sons and daughters by those who think they own Nigeria and our commonwealth and think that the Niger Delta people must continue to be subservient to them. A word is enough for the wise,”
Selected comments on the article (unedited):
Wow! hehehehehee! I just pity people from that part of Nigeria. The level of environmental pollution is unprecedented, yet they are breaking pipes anyhow and proud of it. The smart ones among them try to blame it solely on Shell. Just know that when the oil finishes, nobody is going to clean up your mess.
In all this the Niger delta governors are to blame! With the 13%, they can really make things work if they so wish! I really pity you Niger deltans. We may be poor in the North, but my grandfather’s farm will always there for me in the future, with a clean environment. forget about the the current blood money you are making by oil theft, it won’t last!
Udoabasi - Africa
You truly lack proper home bringing. NigerDelta is built already. All the people need is control of their resources. Have the Niger-Delta people asked you to build the region for them before? Mention the place you built in Nigeria for years you have been ruling. I believe you have been hearing of national and international events happening in Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, and Delta States every week. That means that it is built and it is fit for use by Nigerians more than many other states. Stop building NigerDelta and build your region or your keep your insult and parochial sentiments to yourself. Have you seen the federal govt build Almajeri school or any Primary school for Niger-Deltans? It is built in the North. Have you seen the federal govt build VVF hospital to treat babies you marry and impregnate and they cannot deliver but have tear and bursts of female organs, making urine, faeces mix together, it is built in the North.
Have you seen the federal govt. bring in Drs. to treat lead poisoning, meningitis and poliomyelitis in the Niger-Delta? It is happening in the North.
Have you seen the federal govt. lower the cut-off point or literally removed cut-off point for Niger-Delta students? It is happening in the North. Have you seen the federal govt. build dams in the Niger-Delta? It is happening in the North.
Between 1999 and present day, about four states in the Niger-Delta have built Independent Power plant for electricity generation and no state in the North has done that? Examine yourself to see who rather cries.