Hate Speech: As It Was In The Beginning, Is Now And Ever…

September 6, 2017 Africa , Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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By

Jerome-Mario Utomi

 

 

‘’Freedom of speech is not about good speech versus bad; it’s about who holds the power to decide which is which”—Robyn E. Blumner, Writer, and Columnist

 

It is the truth that our nation Nigeria is not a natural country but an artificial creation. Equally important is the fact that we are made up of multicultural, multireligious and multilingual groups. Bearing these facts in mind, any government that is willing to succeed in this political entity called Nigeria must be guided by the proverbial traffic sign ‘’Slow Down’’ as our road to nationhood remains under construction.

But with the recent pronouncements, actions and inaction of the federal government and more particularly their decision to go after the citizens tagged ‘hate speech,’ proponents against the instituted and constituted authorities appear to go against these age long warnings stated above. Such a move coming from our government, even in the mixed of the nation’s legion of socioeconomic challenges, could be best described as ill-timed and a decision arrived at without adequate socio-political feasibility studies. This decision I also view as misguided as it portrays our government as a body that is dissipating energy curing the effect of an illness without making a conscious effort to get to the root cause.

As a matter of fact, it is antiseptic that once you beat a child, you must not stop him from crying. Sincerely speaking, ‘all these developments should not be a  surprise to the federal government as the oppressed will not remain oppressed forever.’ The yearning for the fulfilment of electoral campaign promises by the people has eventually manifested itself and instead of the government appreciating the peoples’ courage, they labeled their remarks as ‘hate speech.’ What I expected the government to do is to be shameless in getting to the root cause of ‘hate speech’ and then go a step further to engage great industry in providing a solution to it and not the other way round.

Also, what the government should realize is that with the advent of social media, which has in turn given birth to ‘citizen journalism,’ the stage is set the world over for a democratized information management and ‘pressmanism.’ Let the government also be mindful of the fact that ‘a free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. Without criticism, reliable, and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern. For there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking, doing and wanting.’

In advancing the above position, I am not oblivious of the social responsibility postulations supportive of the views that every freedom must go with responsibility. But if that responsibility is what the federal government is driving at, then there should be a more civil way to go about it without being draconian in outlook. In the same token, the government should take recourse also to the fact that ‘‘the function of the press is very high. It is almost holy. It ought to serve as a forum for the people, through which the people may freely know what is going on. To misstate or suppress information is a breach of trust.’’ This is sacrosanct and pivotal for any development-oriented society.

To say nothing about the government’s position will make this piece a one-sided narrative as every government expects the media to reinforce and not undermine their political ideologies and programmes, by giving fair and unalloyed support. But to gain this needed support, what this administration needs to do is to assiduously work on the issues that gave birth to these national discourses which they erroneously addressed as ‘hate speech.’ I can appreciate the background this administration is coming from but at the same time, I would like to pointto the fact that ‘transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time but is worth every effort.’ So let our government try in this respect to do more of listening than reacting.

 

In fact, ‘President Buhari’s remark shortly after assuming office that he would treat those who gave him 5 percent of votes differently from those who gave him 97 percent votes is one of the very potent factors that fuels the raging Biafra agitation, and the return of militancy in the South South as well. Obviously, Mr. Buhari’s ‘hate speech’ was targeted at the two zones which together did not give him up to 10 percent of votes during the 2015 presidential election.’

Interestingly also, ‘determining whether a speech is hate inclined or not will require judges to take into consideration a number of factors affecting how people might interpret the statement.’ I do not think that our already stressed socioeconomic environment and polarized political topography will have the luxury of time and resources to go through these vicious circles of litigation. I think it is evidently visible that what is propelling ‘’hate speech’’ is the current administration’s inability to fulfil what they promised, the masses now feeling short changed. The simple way of nipping this situation in the bud is for the federal government to do the needful by rolling up their sleeves and provide the much-needed democracy dividends as promised and every other challenge including hate speech will naturally fizzle out.

Again, a critical appraisal of some of these comments tagged ‘hate speech’ will reveal that the reader or listener must have put a statement together with previously known facts to come up with a hate speech. What this implies is that some of these so-called ‘hate speeches’ may actually be personal or subjective interpretation, opinion or commentary garnished with a basket full of prejudice by the reader or listener.

One established truth we cannot do away with is the fact that the sole aim of journalism is service and in providing this service, they enjoy great power and followership. This service role I am still convinced the media is doing currently. It depends on the government at the centre to provide the media industry the needed raw material to function and that raw material is no other but a positive report card.

Similarly, if there is any administration that would have raised this as an issue, I guess it should have been that of the former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. This is because he was before our eyes very visibly maligned to the extent that he personally admitted that he was the most insulted president. But he neither contemplated sending a bill to that effect nor joined issues with anybody including the members of the opposition that are now considering shutting down social media space in Nigeria. I believe that this is a symptom or outright manifestation of intolerance on the part of the current administration and I feel strongly that we do not need all these for now.

Also, this is very unacceptable coming from an administration that promised the nation a hyper-modernity via education. An administration that had ‘change’ as her mantra and a party that promised us a new order. Our leaders should also be reminded that some of these people are commenting when they can and condemning when they should, are not in any way enjoying it but are compelled to do so based on the love of their nation. In like manner also, we should be well aware that ‘there comes a time in life when silence is no longer golden but betrayal.’

 

In the light of the above, I would like to draw to the attention of our leaders the fact that ‘when millions of people have been cheated for too long, restitution becomes a costly process; inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, poor healthcare facilities and very recently recession.’ All these are the bitter tablets of oppression the people have been taking since May 29, 2015. Now, this neglect has accumulated ‘interest and its cost for this nation has become substantial in financial and human terms’ hence the ‘hate speech.’

Correspondingly, this should be very good news to our leaders as these mountains of complaints shall avail them the opportunity to identify what the issues are and figure out how to go about solving them. This step is germane as 2019 is far enough for the people to announce as well as form new political alignments that will democratically deconstruct the existing principalities. This is not my prayer but for my prayers to be efficacious, our leader needs to do the needful.

Finally, ‘knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And as a people who need to be their own governors must arm themselves with power that knowledge gives.’ This is the way to go. Let our leaders go to the ‘people’s college’ to seek knowledge of what they want so as to arm themselves with the power they need to destroy hate speech as no bill, no act or decree can stop the movement occasioned by internal dissatisfaction.

 

 

 

 

Jerome-Mario Utomi

Jerome-Mario is a Social Entrepreneur and an alumnus, School of media and communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria.

 

 

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