By Luke Onyekakeyah
The chaos, anarchy, and brigandage that characterized last weekend’s (November 16, 2019) governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states show the futility of legislating on hate speech or whatever name it is called. The law, if passed, will catch up with politicians who are the architect of hate speech in Nigeria. There would be no end to hate speech under the present political dispensation where cheating and marginalization are rife. Politicians propagate hatred by word and action.
Thuggery and brigandage are hate speech in action. Election rigging is hate speech in action. Snatching of the ballot box, intimidating and disenfranchising voters are all forms of hate speech in action. Ethnic profiling borne out of hatred is all part of the hate speech syndrome. You cannot steal someone’s mandate and stop him from speaking out.
For me, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who is championing this legislation, is chasing the wind. By moving to legislate on something that is part of human nature, which cannot be stopped, no matter what is laughable. Besides, the bill is leaving the culprit politicians that promote hate speech to target amorphous social media.
Let me explain why it is futile to legislate hate speech. I will begin with the two words – “hate” and “speech”. The two go together. Hatred begets the speech that responds to it. Without hatred, there would be no associated speech. The two are part of human nature that nothing can stop. As long as the earth exists, there will be hatred and people must respond to hatred.
Is it possible to legislate that there should be no hatred amongst men? Our Creator God enjoins humans to love one another; “Love your neighbour as yourself”, yet humanity has refused to love and instead chose to hate, which explains why there are wars and crises plaguing mankind.
The same way it is impossible to stop people from hating one another, you cannot stop people from speaking in response to the hatred visited on them. Once you give somebody a dirty slap on the face, he or she must respond with unpalatable words, which is what the minister calls hate speech. Who is to blame, the hater or the person who responds? If you want to stop hate speech, you must first stop hatred. Otherwise, it won’t work.
It is noteworthy that the bill is focusing only on “speech” while ignoring hate that begets the speech. For this bill to be meaningful, it must legislate against hatred and speech. Once there is no hatred, nobody will respond to nothing. That way, all the ills in the society would die naturally. Then, we would have heaven on earth.
But is this achievable in today’s truncated Nigeria? The answer is capital NO. That is why I said that Mr. Lai Mohammed and the promoters of the hate speech bill are chasing the wind.
Even the bill promoters would be caught by their own trap. There is no way they would become saints overnight such that they can no longer get angry at any situation.
My only concern is that the bill will be selective. A politician who perpetrates hate speech would be left to go scot-free while a poor social media writer would be chained and put behind bars; the same way those who stole billions walk free on the streets but one who steals handset is left in detention to rot without trial. Where then is the justice that law seeks?
Nigerian politicians perpetrate hate speech on a regular basis to discredit the opponents and cause mayhem. The politicians who are now pretending to be saints are inadvertently making the hate speech law against themselves. The lawmakers should use their tongs to count their teeth before enacting this law that will catch up with many of them.
It is not uncommon that sometimes, there are twists in life. History is replete with stories of men who built gallows or dug a pit for their enemy but later fell into it. A man called Haman once built gallows to hang a Jew named Mordecai and his people but was later hanged on the same gallows that he built, Esther 3. What an unfortunate turn of destiny? And we know that history repeats itself.
While politicians have the resources to sponsor hate speech and all that go with it, ordinary Nigerians don’t have the muscle to do that. Politicians are the ones that hire thugs, arm them and send them out to wreck their opponents. Was it not politicians that engineered the fratricidal Nigeria civil war that led to the death of millions of people?
Since the war ended in 1970, is it not the same politicians that have been truncating our political evolution through hate speech, which is why we have 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th republics? Are the same politicians not gearing towards truncating the 4th republic through inordinate ambition, ethnic hatred that manifests in hate speech?
What hate speech is greater than the rigid position of some politicians who say that an Igbo man would not be allowed to be president of Nigeria? What else is ethnic hatred we are talking about? Who is fooling who?
The hate speech bill, if passed into law, may turn out to be good for Nigeria, if only it will curtail the excesses of politicians who constitute Nigeria’s only natural disaster.
Who does not know that all the soubriquets – Nyamiri, Okoro, Omoibo, Mgbati, Ofemmanu, Aboki, Maluu, Ette, among many others, which Nigerians have used over the years to profile other ethnic groups constitute hate speeches? Would the hate speech law abolish all these derogatory names to make Nigeria a new haven?
Let us be honest to ourselves, it is only in God’s heavenly Kingdom that you won’t get hate speech, not anywhere else on earth where there are human beings of different ethnic or racial stock.
The lawmakers at the National Assembly (NASS) in Abuja, who are championing the bill, believe, erroneously, that they are targeting innocuous social media. But these are simply enthusiastic youths who are exercising their constitutionally given right of freedom of speech and expression in a democratic setting.
Abrogating free speech by way of so-called hate speech legislation is tantamount to killing democracy. The foundation of democracy is built on free speech. Once you remove free speech, then it is anything else but democracy. It would most likely be autocracy, dictatorship, despotism or tyranny. Is Nigeria ready for any of these variants of undemocratic government?
At this juncture, I would call on the Deputy Senate Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who is sponsoring the Hate Speech Establishment Bill 2019, to think twice and withdraw it before it is passed into law. I would also call on the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to champion a law that would guarantee free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria and leave social media alone.
It is needless repeating the fact that there are extant laws in the statute books that take care of frivolous speeches or actions including defamation. The Criminal Code Act 1995, The Penal Code (Northern Nigeria) Federal Provision Act 1960 and the Cybercrimes Act 2015 are some of the laws that have enough provisions to curb hate speech and things like that.
It is needless making a law that would be unenforceable; a law that cannot work. Let us stop making Nigeria a laughing stock to the world.