That most Nigerians are ever so judgmental when it comes to discussing the â€˜otherâ€™ person is reflected in the fact that there is hardly any compassion or restraint in the interventions they provide, particularly in the public space. You need only to see the way Nigerians tear one another to shreds on the internet to understand the level of intolerance in the country though it may be necessary to rehash the creative threads in an imaginary Facebook conversation between an American and a Nigerian whcih I once used on this page to drive home my point:
The American: Hello, my name is Sandra Stone, I am from Florida, I love my husband so much and I can do anything to please him. But I have recently been falling in love with his cousin, what should I do?
- James Food (Alabama): I think you need to talk to your husband because marriage is all about communication. I am sure the two of you will find what the problem really is after which you can then deal with it together.
- Sarah Mountain (Boston): Oh my dear, sorry about that. I have been in your shoes before. I had to wake up to the reality that I am married.
- Michael Paper (New York): Well, just remove your mind from the guy, ensure you donâ€™t get too close to him and make your husband do the things you like in his cousin.
The Nigerian: My name is Mulika, I stay in Abuja and am married with a kid. I have a good husband but I think I am gradually falling in love with his cousin. I am confusedâ€¦
- Emmanuel Onaodowan (Sapele): This Waka Waka woman don kolo big time! Just confess that you need deliverance and I will take you to my Pastor who will cast out the demon from you. Meanwhile, my number is 020999999 just in case you get tired of your husbandâ€™s cousin too. Yeye woman!
- Mayowa Ibikunle (Akure): Oloriburuku, omo alashewoâ€¦ I pity the man who is keeping a public dog like you as wife. O ma she o!
- Idris Audu (Kano): Allah ya tsine miki anya ke musilma che kuwa? Stupid idiot!!
- Amaka Acholonu (Enugu): Tufia kwa! You are a big disgrace to womanhood!
The foregoing is funny and we may laugh over it, especially since the imaginary comments fall within the context of free speech. But that is actually the â€˜introductory chapterâ€™ because what usually follows such conversations in our climes is ethnic profiling. For instance, rather than deal with the woman as an individual, many would rather look at the ethnic group to which she belongs and make a slanderous comment about the character of such people. That will also necessitate a push-back from those who share the same ethnic identity. And with that, all manner of invectives would be exchanged by people who had never met before and may never meet.
Yet, in a plural society such as ours, hate speech not only creates and perpetuates a poisonous social environment; it also makes peaceful co-existent very difficult. That perhaps explains why, at a recent retreat on national security, which had in attendance state governors, ministers and other stakeholders, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said proponents of hate speech in the country would henceforth be treated as terrorists. According to Osinbajo, the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended defines â€˜â€™terrorism as an act deliberately done with malice, which may seriously harm a country or is intended or can be reasonably regarded as having been done to seriously intimidate a populationâ€™â€™.
It is easy to understand why Osinbajo would take such a hard-line position on hate speech. In an age when people are easily susceptible to all manner of propaganda, instigating hostility and violence against â€˜otherâ€™ people and groups is fast becoming the order of the day in our country. But the Federal Government has to be careful lest, in trying to solve a problem, it creates a bigger one. Hate mongers are clever. By manipulating the visceral feelings of their audience, some of these characters also know how to mobilise support around themselves, having mastered what Robert Greene described as â€œThe Science of Charlatanism, or How to Create a Cult in Five Easy Steps” in his 1998 bestseller, â€œThe 48 Laws of Powerâ€.
Most people, according to Greene, have an overwhelming desire to believe in something and wily individuals who emphasize â€œenthusiasm over rationality and clear thinkingâ€ also know how to play divisive games. The first four steps along this direction comprise stimulating hazy dreams in mobs, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see; dazzling them with visual splendour and spectacles; talking and acting like a prophet and never disclosing sources of income when your coffers begin to swell because “your followers want to believe if they follow you, all sorts of good things will fall into their lap.â€
I am sure readers can put faces to people who have today, and at different times in our recent history, applied â€œThe Science of Charlatanismâ€ as a tool to wealth and political power. But it is in step five, when they finally create an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic that they become dangerous. â€œTo unify your group, to strengthen your power, you must manufacture an enemy out to destroy you. If you have no enemies, invent one. Given a straw man to react against, your followers will tighten and cohere. They have your cause to believe in and infidels to destroy.”
Yesterday, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), a former Military Governor of Kaduna Stateâ€”and one of the few respected Nigerians whose views are never coloured by ethnicity or religionâ€”warned against the move to re-arrest Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on grounds that he may have contravened the terms of his bail. And the opening quote to Umarâ€™s statement, credited to Sheikh Usman Danfodio, is very revealing: â€œOne of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference to one particular tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another, and to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those that should be drawn near.â€
We must understand thatÂ hate speech is never self-driven. It erupts when signals in the political space dredge up buried subliminal impulses. For instance, it was President Donald Trump’s utterances and body language that have now emboldened the buried racial hate in the American psyche as was evident in Charlottesville, Virginia. Suddenly, hitherto remote words like ku klux klan, white supremacist, Nazis etc. have re-entered America’s active vocabulary. But it must also be said that majority of American political leaders across the aisle are standing up to the ideology of hate and bigotry.
Coming back home, I suspect that the post-election utterances of President Muhammadu Buhari energized certain subliminal impulses in our society, thus problematizing what had been considered settled points. With the dire economic situation in the country, it was also easy for some demagogues to gather all sorts of rabbles around themselves under the fantasy of founding a new country. Besides, whenever there is a systemic discrimination in the application of lawsâ€”as it is evident in the manner the Police and the Attorney General of the Federation are treating the threats from IPOB as against that of the â€˜Arewa youthsâ€™â€” the perpetrators of hate crimes will, quite naturally, feel a sense of impunity.
While we must commend the Borno State Governor, Mr Kashim Shettima and his colleagues in the Northern Governors Forum for the proactive stance that eventually led to the rescinding of the â€œquit noticeâ€ served Igbo people residing in the North, it is also important for leaders in the South-east to have some quiet word with Kanu; that there must be a method to his madness. Igniting a violence in which the people whose interest he claims to be promoting could get killed betrays an abysmal lack of common sense.
In the course of a meeting yesterday between the Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah and â€˜Friends of the Kukah Centreâ€™, some of the divisive issues in the country came up for discussion. In his intervention, Bishop Kukah said most of the challenges that plague the nation, at practically all levels, can be located in the breakdown of trust between the leaders and the led. In the light of the current situation regarding hate speech in Nigeria, it is difficult to fault Kukahâ€™s thesis.
Therefore, the federal government must understand that trying to re-arrest Kanu while ignoring the threat from the ‘Arewa youth’ cannot help in the restoration of normalcy or removal of hate speech in the country. The only way to render the entrepreneurs of hate irrelevant and permanently put them out of business is to inculcate a new conduct of presidential leadership that is even-handed and genuinely inclusive.
Mrs Osinbajoâ€™s Charge to Teenagers
Prevention is better than cure. That essentially was the message from the wife of the Vice President, Mrs â€˜Dolapo Osinbajo, to teenagers last Saturday at the 2017 edition of the RCCG (TEAP) Teens Career Conference in Abuja. But I must first express my appreciation to her for honouring our invitation. When I sent in the letter through her office, I got a feedback that she would most likely attend but that we should not announce it. That was not reassuring, especially since subsequent efforts to get any firm commitment from her end proved futile. But last Friday, I got a call from her office asking for the time she was expected to arrive the venue and she was there at exactly the time we requested of her.
At the conference, Mrs Osinbajo spoke like a mother while placing emphasis on substance abuse as a one-way ticket to destruction. She should know, based on the insights shared in her 2014 book, â€œThey Call Me Mama: From the under bridge diariesâ€, which documented her efforts to reform some Lagos street boys who were hooked on drugs and had been abandoned by the society.
According to Mrs Osinbajo, who like her husband is a lawyer, when she became a worker in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the first department she worked was with Teens and Children and that must have inspired the cause she took upon herself. â€œFor 10 years, I was under the bridge in Lagos with â€˜Area Boysâ€™. So, every kind of drug that there is, I know about it. I have seen them before and I have seen the effects as wellâ€, she told the teenagers before she added that many of those who have been destroyed by drugs were not different from them. â€œSome of them too have parents in the church. Some of them have parents with very big names. There were people whose parents lived in America and yet their children were under the bridge. So, do not ever imagine that it cannot happen to youâ€ said Mrs Osinbajo who warned on the consequences of such addiction.
Meanwhile, for the former Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, who also spoke to the teenagers, it was an â€˜home-comingâ€™ of sort since it was her husband, Pastor Chinedu, who plantedÂ The Everlasting Arms Parish (TEAP) which in turn birthed several other parishes within Abuja and environ. Ezekwesili admonished the teenagers about the power of choices and the imperative of never trading away cherished values for momentary gains.
In charging the teenagers to watch their words and conducts, Mrs Charity Shekari, a former Commissioner of Health in Kaduna State, cited examples of role models in the Bible to which the teenagers should endeavor to pattern their lives. Mr Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), veteran actor who got most of the attention at the conference with the theme, â€˜Life is a Stageâ€™, told the teenagers that while they are all on the stage of life, they all must write their own scripts! Host Pastor, Eva Azodoh, a medical practitioner and retired army colonel spoke to the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man!
While we are working towards putting the video clips of the conference on the website, we must thank all those who made it an exciting day for the teenagers some of who came from as far as Plateau and Nasarawa States.