Hate Speech, Disinformation Capable of Inciting violence, Says Lai Mohammed

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Seriki Adinoyi in Jos

The federal government has expressed concern over the alarming rise in hate speeches in the country, especially among the political class, warning that it could consume the nation if not immediately checked.

Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, who gave the warning friday in Jos, Plateau State at the opening ceremony of an extra-ordinary meeting of the National Council on Information, feared that hate speech and disinformation as seen in Nigeria today are capable of destabilising the system, inciting people to violence and weakening the people’s confidence in their government.”

Mohammed added that, “If you tune into many radio stations today, 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. And unfortunately, even the hosts of such radio programmes do little or nothing to stop them. 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.”

He recalled the quantum of hate speech directed at President Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) during the last electioneering campaign, noting that “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 had died. Between then and now, they have repeated similar fake news times without number.”

While warning that “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”, the Minister noted that the dangerous trend is threatening the very foundation of national unity, and that it was daily pushing the nation close to the precipice, perhaps more than at any other time since the end of the civil war.

He however said that acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was engaging with all stakeholders to defuse the tension caused by these tendencies, adding that his efforts have gone a long way in calming frayed nerves, especially in the aftermath of the attacks and counter-attacks by various groups across the country.

Appealing to the traditional media to show responsibility by repudiating the freewheeling and out-of-control purveyors of hate speech, disinformation and fake news, the Minister said that as a follow-up to the efforts of the Acting President, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture was planning a series of engagements with the media, to educate and sensitize them to the dangers posed to the unity of the country by hate speech, disinformation and fake news.

Observing that even a section of the traditional media now help the hate campaigners by lifting their unverified or distorted news and dumping such on their readers, he lamented that “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, 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.”

He warned that “it is only because we have a peaceful country that we have journalists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc all practicing their trade. If

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 practice their profession. 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.”