By Emmanuel Elebeke.
Federal government has been advised to reconsider its stands to pass a new law for hate speech in the country. This was the view of some participants at the inaugural Peace and Security Network Quarterly confab series held in Abuja on Monday. They argued that the country has enough laws to take care of any form of hate speech that may arise before, during and after the 2019 general elections as contained in the constitution, broadcasting code, Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria Act and the Press Council Code of ethics. They however, warned federal government against pushing for laws that would gag the press and free speech under the guise of 2019 general elections, insisting that the move to pass the new hate speech bill by through the National Assembly was unnecessary. Speaking at the event, the President, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, Mr. Dotun Oladipo, who accused the government of having a plan to gaga the press, warned government to stop playing around by bringing in new law but should apply the existing laws to check the menace of hate speech. ‘‘Let us not play around because election is coming. We have laws already that can take care of hate speech. Bringing in new laws will not be necessary. This government is out to gag the media. It is difficult to draw the line between hate speech and free speech.’’ On how to address the trend, Oladipo called on the national Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Federal Ministry of Information to contend with the promoters of hate speech on the social media rather than encourage formulation of new laws. He also accused the police of not doing its jobs of tracing drivers of hate speech on social through their social media accounts but rather resort to arresting people who will give them money. He further accused some media practitioners of not leveraging the advantage of social media in seeking for credible stories instead promote unverifiable stories. The director of Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Yunus Zakari Yahu, identified lack of transparency in governance; perception of marginalization; poverty and inability of government to address previous conflicts and bring them to closure as some of the root causes of hate speech. He noted that hate speech is not something that happened out of context, but has to be triggered by an action. ‘‘Over the last couple of months, we have seen increase in the volume of hate speech, particularly in the social media and electronic media as well. We think that the prevalence of hate speech can lead to violence as it has led to violence in other countries. As it has capacity to lead to violence. ‘‘If people act to prevent it, it can be prevented. The reason we are here is to get all stakeholders to understand the dangers hate speech portends for the country, especially as we move closer to the 2019 elections so that those who can work in peace can do so to reduce the volume of hate speech. We are also here to help sensitise the public on the danger of hate speech.’’ On what CITAD is doing to check hate speech, he said: ‘‘We have a couple of initiatives to inform citizens to demand accountability from government. Government on its side should make information free to the people, enforcement of FOI Act; fight poverty, government has to be impartial in addressing issues in the country. ‘‘We also recognise that there are existing media regulations which can be used to address hate speech, the Advertisers Practitioners Act, National Broadcasting code, the Press Council code of ethics. With, these, regulators should be able to sanction all media houses that violate the codes.’’ Earlier in his address, the PSN Manager, Adeolu Adewumi said the the forum was organised to for stakeholders to brainstorm on the correlation between free speech and hate speech and proffer solution to hate speech. ‘‘The essence of having these confab series is to ensure that we engage with hate speech and its implications, hate speech and its implications for elections and electoral security and hate speech and religious tolerance, so that whatever the government and international community with say will be a common narrative towards addressing hate speech. ‘‘We have come to understand that there is a tin line between hate speech and free speech, where hate speech ends, free speech begins vice versa. ‘‘We have to interrogate that properly. We begin to engage the collaboration of government with international partners to have a common narrative towards the 2019 elections. That is why we are starting very early, because we know the election is one year away and we believe that starting early and remaining proactive would add value to the electoral process, and ensuring that the right speeches are made by the political actors, individuals.’’ In his keynote speech entitled: Towards 2019 Elections: Hate Speech and |Implications for Ethnic Relations, the guest speaker and former United nations Under-Secretary for Political Affairs and former mediator in Rwanda and Myanmar crisis, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari said 2019 general elections are threatened because the media space had been hijacked by the drivers of hate speech, saying that concerted action must be taken by government and CSOs to adopt a national law which will check the excesses of hate speech. He charged the media to demonstrate absolute patriotism in the discharge of their duties, insisting that the run off to 2019 elections must be handled with extremee care. he also called for a review of media code of ethics to curtail the increase of hate speech on the media. ”We must not allow ethics and selfish interest to collide with the overall interest of Nigeria. What is more threatening is not the traditional media but the social media. There is need for the ministry of interior to step up sensitization on hate speech. CSOs must also double their efforts in advocacy to the grass roots.” On her side, the President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Funke Egbemode said the media should not be blamed for the increase in hate speech but insisted that government must be prepared to do its bit by being fair to all and providing good governance. She also insisted that security agencies must be prepared to discharge their duties without bias to the citizens. ‘‘We need to do what must be done. You cannot blame everybody sitting next to us for what is happening in the other house. We need to do what needs to be done,’’ she said. On the role of INEC, the chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the business of INEC is to conduct elections and not to police cyber space. He also stated that INEC is not averse to use of social media to advance and reach out to young people but warned that a line should be drawn between hate speech and free speech, especially in the use of social media. ‘‘We are making use of social media to engage people on the ongoing registration exercise. Social media releasing result is the issue but releasing unofficial results. ‘‘The most important thing is that the government have to be dynamic in the use of social media to be able to guide against gate speech. For us in INEC, social media has helped us to draw people out for registration. The use of social media is quite positive in some ways but can be dangerous in other ways. ‘’There has to be a balance between hate speech and free speech. The recent judgements on hate speech in European should be a guide to us as to the limit free of every speech. We need to critically examine theses and come up with guidelines on how to deal with hate speech,’’ he added.