Hate Speech: Learn From Lagos- Tinubu

Senator Oluremi Tinubu of the Lagos Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, at a town hall meeting with her constituents on Friday said that hate speech and quit notices will only hurt the nation. She then called on other parts of the country to learn from Lagos State, where millions of people from diverse ethnic and religious background co-exist peacefully.

Describing Nigeria as a complex country, Tinubu noted that Nigeria’s greatness lies in the diversity of the different groups that make up the country.

The town hall meeting, the 23rd in the series was tagged “Embracing our Complexity and Diversity”.

She called on Nigerians to re-evaluate themselves and those around them to adequately benefit from the diversity of ideas and experiences.

According to her, other states have a lot to learn from Lagos State.

She said that Lagos “with all the different ethnicities that make up Nigeria residing within her boundaries, has proven that it is possible to coexist peacefully.”

Wanted: A Restructuring of Nigerian Minds by Femi Adesina

Hearing some Nigerians speak (whether based at home or in the Diaspora) you discern that they are “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” They spew out things that give them away as “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones.”

What happened to grace? Where did decency disappear to? Are words not to be seasoned with salt again? What has happened to us as a people? The more rotten, the better, it seems. The fouler and odoriferous the cesspit, the more attractive, followed by applause. That seems to be the philosophy of some people today, and it doesn’t matter who they are. High or low. But we cannot continue that way, if we want to be acceptable to God, and to our fellow human beings. National development does not come by a sudden flight. You work at it.

The sing-song in the country today is restructuring of the polity. We want more states. We want a return to regional structure. We want a revision of the revenue allocation formula. We want six vice presidents, one from each geo-political zone. We want those zones to be the federating units, rather than the states. And so on, and so forth.

In fact, so loud is the cacophony of voices over restructuring that if you ask 100 people what they mean, they give you 100 different explanations. But as a country, I believe we will get there someday. And soon.

However, is political restructuring the most urgent thing Nigeria needs now? I don’t think so. For me, what is more urgent is the restructuring of the Nigerian mind. A mind that sees the country as one, that believes that we have a future and a hope, that believes that we are one people under God. But what we see now is ruinous for any country. It is hemlock, bound to poison the entire polity, and send it to a premature perdition.

The National Bureau of Statistics announced our descent into recession. They embraced the news, almost with sickening glee. Now, the same agency has announced exit, and they begin to question its impartiality. What kind of people are they? They want to hear only bad news? May their minds be restructured, lest bad news dog their footsteps

On Tuesday, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced that we had exited from economic recession. It was cheery news for majority of Nigerians, save for those in the gall of bitterness. They spat in the sky, and collected the spittle with their faces. Who gave Nigeria the permission to exit recession? Who gave her the audacity of hope? How can the economy attempt to rebound, when it should sink deeper and deeper into the miry clay? They were in the doldrums, unhappy because good news came for the country. In their befuddled minds, Nigeria must never see a silver lining in the sky.

The ravening clouds must ever remain victorious, must forever possess the sky, simply because of primordial reasons. The party in power is not my own, so why should Nigeria make progress under it? The President in office was not the one I voted for, so why should he succeed? He does not speak my language, he is not of my religion or ethnic stock, so why must Nigeria prosper under him? They, therefore, throw all sorts of tantrums, like a child whose lollipop is taken away, and attempt to rubbish the news on exit from recession. And those same people would canvass for a restructuring of the polity.

Big mistake. Wrong priority. They need to have their minds restructured first, so that they have goodwill towards their own country, and towards all men. Left to them, they wish that when NBS releases results for the next quarter, Nigeria should have gone back into recession. Filthy dreamers! Awful imaginations! They need a restructuring of their minds, and quickly, too.

Some people spend their lifetime expecting thunderstorms and hurricanes, so they never enjoy showers of blessing. Their addled minds expect negative news, so they never enjoy good tidings. They are the type that swallow poison, and then begin to hope that it will kill the person next door. Restructuring, restructuring, that is what such minds need.

Chase after him. If you catch up with him, kill him. If he outruns you, poison his footsteps. That is the chant in most parts of the country today. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Hate has become their natural language. When they speak hateful words, they speak their native language, their mother tongue. Don’t mid the elevated offices they occupy now, or which they have occupied in the past.

They are in the throes, in the paroxysms of bitterness. Only a restructuring of the mind can save them. My dear senior friend, Ikemba Obosima, from Imo State, has good counsel for them, in a text message he sent to one of them recently, which he copied me:”Pain will follow him who speaks or acts with evil thoughts, as does the wheel of the foot of him who draws the cart. He is greater man who conquers self than he who kills a thousand men in war…Love will purify the heart of him who is beloved as truly as it purifies the heart of he who loves.” But will they listen? If they have not danced too far, and have not become like the dog fated to get lost, which refuses to hear the whistle of the hunter. Let them return home, to sanity.

The National Bureau of Statistics announced our descent into recession. They embraced the news, almost with sickening glee. Now, the same agency has announced exit, and they begin to question its impartiality. What kind of people are they? They want to hear only bad news? May their minds be restructured, lest bad news dog their footsteps. Malediction? Am I cursing anybody? Not at all. Just a warning, and a call to new attitude, new thoughts, new conduct. The things we expect have a way of coming upon us. Ask the biblical Job. “What I feared has come upon me. What I dreaded has happened to me.”(Job 3:25).

One of the characteristics of a hateful mind is that it conjures a lot of mischief, and purveys same as truth. And the gullible laps it up. During the health challenge of our dear President, a thing common to any mortal, big or small, of high or low estate, they filled the land with evil tidings. Oh, he is on life support machine. No, he is dead and long buried. He will never return to that office, I swear. And then, God did what He knows how to do best. He showed the Deus ex machina, His Invisible Hands. Now, the reputation of those people is hanging on life support. If only men would restructure their minds!

President Buhari says exit from recession is cheery news, but until the life of the average Nigerian is positively touched by the economy, he doesn’t consider the job done. Very good. Even the NBS, which brought the good news, says the economy is still fragile, and the good work must continue, so that we don’t slide back. That is exactly what this government would do. That is the motive behind the ERGP (Economic Reconstruction and Growth Plan). So, let nobody be filled with diabolic thoughts. Government does not feel it is there yet. Action stations! All hands on deck.

A final word for haters, wailers, purveyors of fake news, or whatever you choose to call them. Evil minds wax worse and worse. A hater would envy others unnecessarily. He would conjure evil thoughts that would poison his system. He would manifest all sorts of negative tendencies that turn him into a proper child of the Devil. And at the end of it all, his master welcomes him home with open arms. “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” (Dante’s Inferno). And there will be plenty weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

*Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari

EDITORIAL: Democracy, Licentiousness And Free Speech

The legal luminary and activist Femi Falana (SAN), has correctly pointed out that there are enough laws in the statute books to confront hate speeches and utterances which are clearly constructed to promote discord amongst ethnic and religious groups as well as cause disaffection within the Republic. It is therefore superfluous in the views of many people that the federal government now sees a need to, tighten the screws by putting more laws on the statute books to curtail the promoters of hate speeches.

From our perspective, it might be superfluous, nevertheless, in view of what is in reality a very calculated promotion of hate speeches often to achieve a political advantage which the government must respond.

A key problem here is the very interpretation of the concept of free speech for mostly self-serving reasons by members of the contending political factions. Free speech is a clearly guaranteed component of a democracy. We, however, make bold to point out, that this does not equate with licentiousness. For a democracy to survive there must be clearly enforceable laws against sedition, treason and using the communication media to foment discord which could end up undermining the state and destroying our hard-earned democracy.

We are aware for example, as to how the use of demagoguery and hate speeches propelled the Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler to victory in Germany in 1938. The end result was that 60 million people ended up dead as a result of an avoidable war instigated by the Nazis and their allies. Countries in Europe and elsewhere sensibly responded by saying NEVER AGAIN!!

They enforced this position by passing stringent anti-defamation laws with strong penalties to deter those who use speeches and imagery to target groups. This has had salutary effects. Till date in Germany, it is illegal to wear insignia depicting support for the Nazi party. This in no way tramples on free speeches but guarantees it. Groups must be protected in a democratic setting and the state has a moral duty and political obligation to move against those who wish to undermine it by sowing discord. In contemporary terms, the sad example of the misuse of Radio Rwanda should serve as a warning to those who equate licentiousness with democracy. Within a week 800,000 innocent souls were laid to waste as a result of the inability or unwillingness of the state to regulate the broadcasting station.

Regulation is key. It has to be stated here, that self-regulation is not working assiduously as it should. Everyone in the formal and the informal media must realise that they have a duty to modulate extreme views in order to preserve their own freedom to operate. Let no one be in doubt, the proponents of hate speeches have an authoritarian disposition which is irreconcilable with the ethos of democracy. Once they have achieved their aim, out goes any pretence of democracy. This is a vital and recurring decimal in contemporary history. We must be forewarned. For It is the inadequacy of self-regulation that has led to the development of this toxic atmosphere in the first place.

Hate Speeches and Lessons of Rwanda By Lai Mohammed

It was Gina Greenlee who said ‘’experience is a master teacher, even if it is not our own.’’  I am sure many  have heard or read about how hate speeches and incitement to violence played a significant role in the 1994 genocide that left at least 800,000 people dead in Rwanda. Well, it is worth rehashing here for the purpose of this discourse.

 

Anti-Tutsi articles and cartoons in the Kangura newspaper, as well as hate speech and incitement to violence on the radio station called RTLMC – Radio-Television Libres des Mille Collines (Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television) helped to set the stage for that genocide. The station was set up by hard-line Hutu extremists, and received the backing of many rich and prominent people in that country. Those who saw the danger posed by the station called for it to be shut down, but against the backdrop of freedom of speech, such calls fell on deaf ears, until it was too late. Some 23 years later, Rwanda is yet to fully recover from the impact of the genocide, triggered by hate speech and senseless incitement to violence.

In Nigeria today, the hate being spewed on radio stations across the country is so alarming. If you tune into many radio stations, you will be shocked by the things being said, the careless incitement to violence and the level of insensitivity to the multi-religious, multi-ethnic nature of our country. Unfortunately, even the hosts of such radio programmes do little or nothing to stop. Oftentimes, they are willing collaborators of hate speech campaigners. This must not be allowed to continue because it is detrimental to the unity and well-being of our country.

 Let me use my own personal experiences to make these more vivid. On Wednesday, 26 April 2017, after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, I briefed State House Correspondents on what transpired at the meeting. I said, among others, that President Muhammadu Buhari did not preside over the day’s meeting because he decided to work from home that day. In reporting my briefing, one of the correspondents quoted me as saying the President would work from home henceforth, rather than on that day only. The reporting generated a lot of uproar, until I issued a rebuttal. This is a clear case of disinformation – which is defined as false information deliberately spread to deceive the people.

The following month, after I had briefed State House Correspondents on the proceedings of another Council meeting, one newspaper’s headline went thus: ‘’We do not know who will sign the 2017 budget – Lai Mohammed.’’ This is at variance with what I said.

When I was asked a question relating to the signing of the 2017 budget, my exact words were: ‘’When it is transmitted to the Presidency, a decision will be taken.’’ The reporting is another clear case of disinformation.

Also in May 2017, I travelled to China on official assignment. I had just arrived in that country, after a long flight, when I started receiving calls from Nigeria, seeking my reaction to a story making the rounds in the Social Media, quoting me as saying that though President Muhammadu Buhari is in a London hospital, he is using Made-in-Nigeria drugs. I purportedly made the comment in an interview with Channels Television, after the Federal Government’s launch of the Made-in-Nigeria campaign in Abuja a few days earlier. At first, I chose to ignore the story, saying Nigerians would easily see the folly of it. But the phone calls from Nigeria became more frequent and more intense, to such an extent that they could no longer be ignored. I had to put a call through to Mr. John Momoh, and Channels Television promptly issued a rebuttal, saying it neither interviewed me nor carried any such story. This is a clear case of fake news.

Many will also recall the quantum of hate speech directed at candidate Buhari during the last electioneering campaign. Never in the history of electioneering campaign in Nigeria has such a quantum of hate speech been directed at any candidate.

Many will also recall the quantum of hate speech directed at candidate Buhari during the last electioneering campaign. Never in the history of electioneering campaign in Nigeria has such a quantum of hate speech been directed at any candidate. This did not stop even when he won the election and became President. For instance, the President had hardly left Nigeria for his vacation in London on 19 January 2017, during which he said he would have routine medical check-up, when these hate and fake news campaigners circulated the news that he has died. Between then and now, they have repeated similar fakes news times without number.

Let me be clear: all the instances I have cited did not happen by accident. No! They were all orchestrated. And who better to target than the President himself, or the official spokesperson of his government! The campaign is a multi-million naira project and the people behind this string of hate speech, disinformation and fake news are not about to stop. In fact, they will become more vicious in the days, weeks and months ahead. And what is the purpose of their campaign? Simply to discredit the government, destabilise the polity and make the country ungovernable. There is no doubt that the resurgent push for separatism as well as rising cases of ethnic and religious disharmony are all traceable to the growing phenomenon of hate speech, as well as the disinformation and fake news campaign.

A section of the traditional media is also now thriving on anti-government tendency. If you pick up copies of some newspapers, you will think the government of the day is doing nothing at all to alleviate the sufferings of the people, occasioned by the economic downturn

 

During my visit to the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) House in Lagos, I had said that any programme tagged Nigerian or local content programme, which is meant for the consumption of Nigerians, must be produced in Nigeria, rather than in foreign countries. The hate speech, disinformation and fake news campaigners quickly distorted what I said and went ahead to report that the Federal Government has decided to ban the production of music videos and films outside the countries. Gullible and malleable commentators, many of them recruited by the campaigners, went to town abusing me and the federal government, without even trying to know the truth. Such is the tragedy of our time.

Now, what do these phenomena of hate speech, disinformation and fake news have in common? They are all capable of destabilising the system, inciting people to violence and weakening the people’s confidence in their government, just like I said earlier. Let me quote how a German newspaper described this phenomenon: ‘’For a society in which people are informed mainly through the media – and form their political opinions through it – this process is threatened when lies spread through the media. When it is no longer clear what is false and what is correct, people lose their confidence in the state’’.

Nigeria is a country of ethnic and religious diversity. That should be a source of strength, if the fault lines are not deliberately being exposed and exploited by those who are bent on setting the people against themselves, using their new-found tools of hate speech, disinformation and fake news.

This dangerous trend is threatening the very foundation of our national unity. It is daily pushing the nation close to the precipice, perhaps more than at any other time since the end of the civil war.

What is the way out? We all must say NO to hate speech, either on our radio and television stations, newspapers, the Social Media, on our phones or in the public space. We must be resolute in tackling the canker-worm of hate speech, disinformation and fake news. We as government information managers must embark on a relentless campaign against these evil tendencies at our various levels, whether federal or state. We must boycott any medium that engages in hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and fake news. The regulators must also be alive to their responsibilities by promptly sanctioning the purveyors of hate speech, disinformation and fake news. Yes, our constitution allows freedom of speech and this government believes in it, but freedom of speech must not be allowed to become freedom of irresponsibility.

We are also appealing to the media, the traditional media in particular, to show responsibility by repudiating the freewheeling and out-of-control purveyors of hate speech, disinformation and fake news. Unlike the Social Media, the traditional media is subject to the rigours of accuracy, fact-checking and fairness, among others. Sadly, even a section of the traditional media now apes the hate campaigners by lifting their unverified or distorted news and dumping such on their readers. This is not right.

A section of the traditional media is also now thriving on anti-government tendency. If you pick up copies of some newspapers, you will think the government of the day is doing nothing at all to alleviate the sufferings of the people, occasioned by the economic downturn. They ignore any positive actions of government, including the massive investment in infrastructure like roads and railways, and instead focus on anything that will make the government look bad.

Instead of reporting the news freely and fairly, they have constituted themselves to an opposition bloc.

It is only because we have a peaceful country that we have journalists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc all practising their trade. If we allow our country to be plunged into crisis just because of the antics of an irresponsible few, neither the journalists nor any other professionals will be able to practise their professions. This is the blunt truth. We all have a stake in this country, hence we must not allow hate campaigners and purveyors of fake news and disinformation to drag the country down with them.

*Excerpted from  a speech by Mohammed,  Minister of Information and Culture , at the extra-ordinary meeting of the National Council on Information in Jos on 21 July 2017.

We Must Denounce Hate Speeches – Osinbajo

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday urged leaders across the country to speak out against hate speeches and divisive comments.

He made the call during the opening session of a meeting with leaders of thoughts from the South East, at the old Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja.

He stressed that it is not the time to hide under any ethnic or religious platform to support comments that divide rather than unite the nation.

 Osinbajo urged leaders to raise their voices against the present strident divisive speeches in the country, saying “violence pays no one.”

Noting that the meeting was very urgent and crucial because of the current hate speeches and divisive comments across the country, the acting President said the situation requires urgent attention from all concerned.

 

“Violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. Wars today hardly end. No one who has seen the face of wars even on television will wish it for anyone. We should not tolerate hate speeches or divisive comments,” he said.

He reiterated Federal Government’s resolve to deal with any troublemaker who threatens the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria.

The acting President added: “There is no doubt on the resolve of government not to allow anyone get away with hate speeches and divisive words. Our emotion should not be allowed to run wide so as to threaten the existence of anyone anywhere in Nigeria.

“We will do everything within our power to protect the lives of every citizen anywhere and in any part of the country.”

While thanking the leaders for their prompt response to the consultative meeting, Osinbajo said he expects fruitful and frank deliberations at the meeting.

Those at the meeting were – Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, some state governors –  Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), David Umahi (Ebonyi), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Willie Obiano (Anambra), and Rochas Okorocha (Imo).

Others are – the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno and other top government officials.

Former Senate President, Ken Namani; Senator Eyinaya Abaribe, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Senator Joy Emodi, Prof. Viola Nwuleri.