A worrisome trend that has bedeviled Nigeria; it is hate speech which has turned Nigerians on one side of the divide against those on the other side in a seemingly disturbing way devoid of peace. This dissent has divided us further across religious, political, ethnic and tribal lines just as the government is trying to summon the various divisions together.
The call by some aggrieved northern youths under the youth wing of Arewa Consultative Forum some time ago, directing people from Igbo extraction to leave the North amidst the call for secession by Igbos saw Nigerians in their large numbers trooping to the social media space to air their opinions on these issues.
Some of the opinions were tagged hate speech by the Nigerian Government, one which they intend to put state machinery in motion to curb. The menace created by hate speeches in Nigeria is overwhelming and should be brought to an end. Stakeholders called for drastic punitive measures to help curb the development while some lawyers hold that anti-hate speech sanctions should be between the purviews of the law. The question on everyone’s mind however is the thin line, the distinction between free speech and hate speech. One has to be careful of what to call hate speech in an era where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution of the nation.
Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said the there should be strict adherence to the Nigerian Broadcasting Code and that NBC should sanction errant stations accordingly to deter others. Subsequently, the NBC imposed a N500, 000 fine on stations allowing callers to air comments perceived as hate speech. The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan -Ali, directed the nation’s security agencies to tackle notable Nigerians propagating hate speech especially through the social media while Facebook said it has decided means to keep off hate speech and incitement on the social networking site.
Just as Twitter began the implementation of its new rules on hate on November 1, 2017 the European Commission announced a set of guidelines for online platforms to prevent content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism.
There is no denying the fact today that hate speeches abound, to hold a contrary opinion alone is often greeted with yells of hate and damning expletives. The government however must include the youth, who spend more than half of their time daily on social media to debate issues of hate and division online in the fight against hate speech. The government needs to rally the youthful and restless minds together to create harmony and peaceful coexistence among the Nigerian people. The people need be educated on the need for us to peacefully co-exist as a nation.
The youth who have turned the social media to their self publishing platforms need also to be educated on media ethics. Hate speech abound because we have failed to communicate the right information and as such wrong and inflammatory information have become prevalent.