The Threat of Hate Rhetoric

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Government has the responsibility to change the mood in the country from anxiety to optimism

In recent days, rival groups in major geopolitical centres across the country have been releasing to the public domain hateful communiques laced with threats of violence. Yet to the extent that freedom of expression, which democracy guarantees, does not include a license to plunge the nation into avoidable mayhem, the time has come to place a moratorium on hate speech in Nigeria.

The problem started on Tuesday when some grown men under the aegis of “Coalition of Northern Youths”, addressed the media in Kaduna and issued a three-month ultimatum for people of Igbo descent residing in the North to leave the region. While threatening to commence the implementation of what it described as “visible actions” at the expiration of their ultimatum, the group vowed an “effective, peaceful and safe mop-up of all the remnants of the stubborn Igbo that neglect to heed this quit notice”. They also directed all northerners who are resident in the South-east to immediately start returning to their various states of origin.

Unfortunately, there was no immediate response from the Police to what was capable of disrupting not only public order but indeed the security and peaceful co-existence of the country. It is even more ironical that in a society where the appellation of “elder statesman” is conferred on just about any politician of a certain age, some otherwise respected men who ordinarily should urge caution, were fanning the embers of hate and discord. It took the intervention of the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, for the Inspector General of Police to issue some feeble statement in Abuja. But we must also commend the Northern Governors Forum led by Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima as well as the traditional authorities in the North, particularly the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumini Kabir, for speaking the language of leadership that was very reassuring and has helped to defuse the initial tension.

However, it is unfortunate that some politicians are already muddling the waters by using divisive and hateful statements to promote themselves and their nefarious agenda in the bid to “defend” their people. What is more worrisome is that various traditional and social media platforms are now being deployed to launch vituperations and counter-vituperations, most of which are obviously inciting and dangerously provocative. The challenge lies with the authorities to contain the antics of these unscrupulous hate-mongers.

While we understand that building an inclusive and egalitarian society in a federal arrangement is always a work-in-progress, the security agencies—whose primary responsibility is the protection of national security through managing and deterring threats to the peaceful co-existence of our country – are also part of the problem. Not only do they discriminate in the choice of culprits regarding hate speech, they are never even-handed in the application of the law.

In many ways, the recent flourish of hateful and divisive utterances is primarily a political outcome. Key federal appointments have followed a parochial track while the body language at the apex of power unfortunately reflects a basic reluctance to relate to Nigeria as a constitutional being. Political jobbers all over the country have since taken the cue and hijacked the trend. And we now have nearly as many separatist groups as there are zones of discontent in the country.

However, while democracy entitles citizens to freedom of expression and association, it is also true that every democracy has an obligation to mediate and modulate this freedom in order to ensure the survival of the nation itself. The role of the three arms of government is to carefully demarcate between democratic freedom and a clear descent into recklessness that threatens us all. Either at the level of security, law enforcement or basic accountability, the system has become dysfunctional.

Meanwhile, the current problem of Nigeria is not how to make each ethnic group or geopolitical zone fly its own silly flag in the name of restructuring. It is how to manage a diverse federation so that citizens begin to hold government accountable for the things that unite us—education, health, employment, infrastructure and reasonable economic livelihood. It is the failure of governance and the irresponsibility of lazy politics that are at issue in the epidemic of hate and divisiveness currently on shameful display in Nigeria.

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The current problem of Nigeria is not how to make each ethnic group or geopolitical zone fly its own silly flag in the name of restructuring. It is how to manage a diverse federation so that citizens begin to hold government accountable for the things that unite us—education, health, employment, infrastructure and reasonable economic livelihood