In recent times in the social media space as well as during political and economic crisis in Nigeria, there has been a lot of Hate Speeches which has led to the ongoing debate as to whether there should be a Hate Speech Law, carrying a maximum death sentence.
However, in line with this, and as the 2019 elections approaches, Executive Director, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP) and Chairman, OneVoice Media Committee, Pastor Adedeji Adeleye, in a media parley tagged, “Freedom of expression and the combat of hate speech in Nigeria” observed that such a law could be misused by politicians and political office holders in government to hunt down opposition, and critical civil society’s non-state actors. He also faulted the Hate Speech Bill, opining that it is difficult to determine what constitutes hate speech.
Defining Hate Speech, the organization’s media spokesperson, pastor Adeleye said, “One definition of hate speech is that it is any speech that employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the bases of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other forms of group membership. In other words, it could be a speech which attacks a person or group or ethnic people on the basis of race, religion, gender, or disability. If it disparages, intimidates or incites violence against the above category of people, it is termed to be a hate speech. The problem here is that offensive speech is also similarly defined.”
However, OneVoice also noted that although any form of Hate speech is condemnable but other more effective measures can be employed to ensure that we put a stop to it in Nigeria, especially as the 2019 elections approaches.
To tackle the issue of Hate speech, OneVoice therefore recommends that the starting point is to recognize that the line between offensive and hate speech could be blurred and that it would be more appropriate to resort to the use of non-legal instruments to deal with all forms of offensive speeches.
According to Pastor Adedeji, “There may for instance be a need to develop such, in conjunction with critical organs of the society such as Labour Unions, NBA, media owners and practitioners as well as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Media houses through their umbrella associations should incorporate the taxonomy of what constitutes hate speech and offensive speeches as part of good journalism practice and impose sanctions on erring members who publish or broadcast hate speeches.”
On a light note, he advised that Nigerians should also learn to laugh at themselves. This he said is already happening in some ways with our comedians like Ali Baba, Charlie Boy, AY, Seyi Law, Basket Mouth and others who dish out jokes based on ethnic and regional profiling. In fact it could be argued that since every region and ethnic group in the country is both a victim and a victimizer when it comes to hate speech, they countervail and cancel out one another.
In conclusion, Pastor Adeleye advocated for self-regulatory systems and intensifying activities geared towards sensitizing the media community and civil society practitioners about ethical and moral standards to avoid high level of hate speech and partisanship in the coverage of 2019 elections, especially as the elections approaches.
He also added that CSOs and media practitioners need to concertedly begin massive sensitization, enlightenment and awareness campaigns against hate speech, taking it to the doorstep of the National Assembly that Nigeria do not need a law but a moral suasion and self-regulatory system to combat hate speech.
Also, Prof. Lai Oso stressed that, although it is difficult to define hate speech as people interpret hate speech in various ways. However, social media, political and economic crisis are all contributing factors to hate speech in Nigeria.
Suggesting the way forward, he stressed that, “We need more education about human rights, promote a culture of tolerance and respect for others, raise more awareness about the phenomenon and its consequences as well bring our comedians to some of level of decency.”
Lagos State Director of National Orientation Agency (NOA) Mr. Waheed Isola, restated that our social media space is highly unregulated and this can lead the nation into a chaotic state. Hence, it should be looked at. He also advised bloggers and commentators to be responsible as they go about their duties emphasizing that hate speech can further divide us as a nation.
In his contribution, Barrister Malachy Ugwummadu, said that a Hate Speech bill is completely unnecessary. However, justification with evidence is a total defense in any defamation.
“Prescribing death sentence on a hate speech is the height of it. We should think about the things which bring about hate speech,” he said.