I found it very amusing and unbelievable that Nigerian authorities could suddenly wake up and term something or whatever as hate speech. When did we get to this level of intolerance or a situation when Nigerians must submit themselves and their sacred fundamental human rights to gagging? I remember there was the infamous Decree 4 which militarily booted Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor to prison in 1984. I remember also the one man madness in Rivers State that turned Amakiri’s head to yam tuber field that needed blunt hoe to clear. That was in 1975. Not in the least did I expect that there would be an ill-digested ‘law’ that would compel Nigerians to padlock their mouth or to seek the advice of a ‘charge and bail’ lawyer before giving free expression to their feelings.
Let us begin from the beginning. What actually is a hate speech? Who defines it? What is its composition and constitution? The term hate speech cannot be an abstraction. To say a speech constitutes hate, you must name the person or group of persons hate is directed at. If a slave says his slave master is wicked, authoritarian and unjust; is that hate? If a group of people lament the plundering of their farms and the raping and assaulting of their wives would such a group who condemns the brutish barbarity meted to them be considered hateful?
If some Christians make it a daily ritual to be burning down mosques and other places of worship that do not embrace Christianity and Muslims cry foul, would such Muslims be considered as spreading hate? Or if some Muslims run amok and insist that their own interpretation is the only way and path all other people should follow and such deranged Muslims are called lunatics, would those who complain be accused of making hate speech?
I simply cannot understand. It is like the Jews accusing Arabs of anti-Semitism. Both Arabs and Jews are Semitic people. I do not think Nigeria can really define the parameters and boundaries of hate speech. As at now everybody has reasons to haul bricks at each other. I do not see how any person can be accused of hate speech in a situation where people hate one another and are at best tolerating one another.
Nigerian authorities need not play the ostrich. There is so much bitterness in the land. There is so much injustice. There is so much iniquity. There is so much bad blood. Nigerian political elite have killed the soul of this country. They have created so much cynicism and discontent. If truth must be told Nigerians rain curses on the so-called leaders on daily basis; even on hourly basis. Would the authorities in Abuja and in the states and across the country claim ignorance of the massive hate the masses nurse against them? Whether is allowed on pages of newspapers or on radio wave-length or on television screens or not, the hate speech lives and thrives on the lips of most Nigerians except a few that have cornered the resources of our common patrimony.
Are the authorities unaware that most Nigerians wish their leaders were dead? Any time a political leader is reported sick or is involved in an accident, the instant reaction is ‘let him/her die’. Whether anybody wants to believe or accept this reality is irrelevant. The general belief of the people is that politicians, civilian or military have brought the current choking misery on them. And no legislation can wish that away.
Rather than waste time making laws or legislations against so-called hate speech which cannot even be defined, the current leaders should be busy making pronouncements that would assuage the feelings of the citizens and thereby assure them that Government is working hard to find solutions to myriad of problems heaped on the people by sheer thoughtlessness of succeeding administrations.
Government must create atmosphere devoid of hate if it wants people not to be hateful. How would anybody whose parents are massacred at night by identifiable people who are not prosecuted or brought to justice not feel hate in his heart against such pampered lawless animals? How would anybody whose land is illegally taken or his house bulldozed by some wicked governor not feel hate or express hate?
My concern in this matter is getting the so-called hate speech defined. I repeat for emphasis that hate speech cannot be in abstraction. Hate must be seen as being directed against some one or some group. In this case who is sinning and who is being sinned against? Who is the judge of what constitutes hate between two gladiators? Who hates who? Is the person killing you that is being hated or the victim who is crying out against oppression?
Nigeria must encourage freedom of expression. She must in fact encourage people to pour out the venom in their heart rather than encourage them to be harbouring blood in their throat while spitting out white saliva. This is actually what usually informs the establishment of Truth Commissions as a way of healing wounds after people would have spoken out what hate is locked in their mind. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that cannot be toyed with or swept under the carpet. I recall how enthusiastic my colleagues were when I founded FREXPRES, a Society for Free Expression in 1982. I recollect that because we had freedom of expression we were able to publicly declare at a Press Conference at the Press Centre Iyaganku Ibadan in March 1983 that if elections were held that year the government would not last six months. And it did not last four months! At that time we canvassed for answers to the National Question before any federal election could be held.
Government should not keep quiet on burning national issues. By keeping quiet or by pretending that all is well when everybody knows that all is not well the government is unwittingly creating room for calamitous hatred. The more sections of the country feel injured, betrayed and abused the more such sections will continue to hate their perceived cheaters and abusers. Government will now make a choice; whether to remain as perceived backers for those cheating, abusing, traumatising, and oppressing other people or make bold and courageous pronouncements that no one section of this country is a sacred cow. This is not the time for witch hunting. This is not the time for government to be chasing shadows. The hate speech decree will not fly. It is amorphous and clearly in violation of freedom of expression and subject to abuse and partisanship. If anybody or any group feels injured by another group’s pronouncement let the aggrieved party go to court to prove its case.
The pen is the tongue of the hand,the silent utterer of words for the eyes….Henry Beecher