Stoking harm and ridicle against the major religions and ethnic denominations in the country is a tradition that reaches back in time in the country. Often times it is targeted at the government and institutions. Hate speech catalysed the 1966 progrom and ensured that the civil war that followed was outrageously murderous.
Mohammed Marwa a.k.a. Maitatsine used it effectively in the Yan Tatsine attacks of the early 80s that claimed about 5000 lives in the North. It also defined the messages of Musa Makaniki, Maitatsine’s minion and successor in the lead up to the 1982 Yola, Adamawa State riots that saw over 1000 dead and 30000 homeless.
These ghastly imprints and more explain why last year’s string of quit notices by ethnic tendencies in the country to some ethnic stocks, struck everyone with a dreadful deja vu.
Hate expressed in words find the commonest expression in the fashioning of denigratory sobriequets among tribes in the country with which they stereotype one another. Even in the best of times, such negative stereotypes largely define cross-cultural and inter-ethnic relationships in the country.
Hate speech can combine the ferocity of hurricane and typhoon against peace and coexistence of a people. It fuelled Germany’s Adolf Hitler’s programme of annihilation against the global Jewish community which saw six million Jews gassed to death between 1939 and 1945. The Rwandan Genocide of 2004, which claimed over a million Tutusi lives was energised by Hutus’ reference of Tutsis as roaches-a hate sentiment that got a stimulant from a musical composition that was given a liberal playing time by a rogue radio station in the country.
Individually and collectively, Nigerians have a sacred responsibility to ensure that no seed of hate speech is sown again in the country and when sown must not be allowed to sprout. It is heart-warming that all the arms of government seem united on the need to make hate speech unattractive to harbingers of violence among us.
We recall that last year, the minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, disclosed that a bill against hate speech had been submitted to the Ministry of Justice for transmission to the National Assembly.
February this year, the minister of Information, Lai Mohammed disclosed that hate speech offenders would be punished in accordance with the 2011 Anti-terrorism Act. If the said executive bill takes root on the extant anti-terrorism law, it would mean that it would either come as an additional amendment to the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended), or a new law would be fashioned from of it. This is made more likely, given that Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President, last August, while reinforcing government’s stand against hate speech disclosed that those found culpable in the promotion of hate speech would be treated as terrorists.
He observed that the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended), defined terrorism as an act, deliberately done with malice which may seriously harm or damage a country or intimidate a people.
Speaking during the National Economic Council (NEC) retreat on national security at the Presidential Villa he said: “The federal government has today drawn the line on hate speech. Hate speech is a specie of terrorism. Terrorism as it is defined popularly is the unlawful use of violence or intimidation against individuals or groups especially for political ends.
“As I have said, we’ve drawn a line against hate speech, it will not be tolerated; it will be taken as an act of terrorism and all of the consequences will follow it,” he stated.
In another forum he warned that “We must guard what comes out of our mouth. It is a big mistake to link freedom of speech with hate speeches. We must do something about it. We must insist that it is not acceptable. We must insist that perpetrators of hate speeches must be punished. We must not make the mistake of the tragic past.”
We also recall that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, back then also made a revelation that there was an anti-hate speech bill in the Senate, which he said would be given accelerated process of passage. While we ask whither those disclosed bills, we note that having passed first reading in the Senate at the moment is the one that seeks to punish hate speech offenders with death by hanging, sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullahi, spokesman of the Senate. The bill also seeks to establish an “Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches,” which shall enforce hate speech laws in the country and ensure the elimination of hate speech.
The bill proposes that “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, commits an offence.” For offences such as harassment on the grounds of ethnicity or racial contempt, it shall be “not less than a five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.”
The bill comes off as what would be a good piece of legislation if properly honed, but for a good reason, it has been vexatious. This is because of the extremity of punishment with death sentence.
While hate speech must be made unattractive for all the evils it conveys, we have scrupples with a legislation that proposes capital punishment at a time the world is decidedly drifting away from implementing judicial murders. To this extent, the bill in the Senate is repugnant to natural justice. It deserves a rejig. The Senate must realise that a total of 103 countries of the world have completely abolished capital punishment, while October 10 every year is “World Day Against Death Penalty.” Marking the day last year, UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres stated again that “death penalty has no place in 21st Century,” and we agree.
Be it an amended Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended) that would be refashioned to fight hate speech or any other law, caution should be applied in accumulating fresh laws that promote judicial murder. Doing so is an embracement of the superannauted. Commensurate prison term is where the world is going.
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