There are instances of language use in Nigeria that would raise the alarm bell anywhere in much of Europe and North America. Is it then the case that Nigerians have internalized and neutralized much of the hate speeches or hate speeches are still accumulating towards a future explosion? The Kano based Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD) has mounted a Hate Speech observatory since June. In its most recent monthly report just out, it expressed worries that citizens of Nigeria are yet to understand the imperatives of the country’s diversity in both religion and ethnicity. It says this lack of understanding is contributing to the large volume of hate speech in the social media.
According to the CITAD’s September 2016 report, the number of hate speeches online is not just rising, it is also predominantly the youths who are pushing it. CITAD notes two dangers with this. One is the tendency among people to resort to self help nowadays, most of the time involving taking the law into their own hands by using violence. And nothing happens to such people or whatever happens to them happens when and where it serves no deterrent purposes. The second is the tendency in the Nigerian society to take what an individual says to mean the position of his religious or ethnic or regional identity and, therefore, a group attack by that religion on its Other. It then concludes pessimistically that “the continuing exchange of hate speech on the social media by people who should be educated is a major source of concern for our country” and that this “tells a society whose civics has been hollowed”
Its own discourse of the phenomenon is that hate speech has found fertile grounds in the crippling economic conditions and the survival crisis at a time of increasing unemployment and social insecurity. It is worried too about what it regards as the slow motion of the government in tackling the drivers of hate speech in the society which it lists to include employment, hunger and poverty and increasing social inequality. Then it proclaims what should be quoted as presented: While these are generalized across the country, it is easy for people to read it otherwise and find cleavages in our many divides such as religion and ethnicity. That the bulk of the hate speech we captured are more related to issues of religion and ethnicity than in the real competition for access to resources shows that identity markers are easier to manipulate than the reality of the crisis on the ground”.
Believing that monitoring without countering hate speeches is unhelpful, CITAD says it has been taking actions, a course of action it would be happier if the great majority of both traditional and religious leaders buy into by speaking out more forcefully against the phenomenon and actual hate speeches. Right now, it doesn’t think so although it notes and appreciates the efforts of some religious and community leaders who have spoken out against the culture of hate speech.
It particularly wants religious and ethnic leaders to refrain from using inciting language and to caution their followers from using hate speech in voicing out their grievances. And to publicly condemn hate speech where it is made and take the task of enlightening the public against hate and dangerous speech through dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts. For CITAD, the challenge is for individuals to not only refrain from engaging in hate speech but to also refuse to be provoked by it. Its assumption is that hate speeches lose the capacity to catalyze violence once the target refuse to be provoked or to react to one.
As stated at the opening, this sort of report would attract attention in most other societies because hate speeches are the most certain and scariest indicators of tottering towards calamity in coexistence. This is because words are capable of multiplicity of meanings. Language that are, therefore, capable of hurting the other person or group of persons’ pride, religion, culture or, in short, group self-worth could be invitation to collective tragedy. It bears repeating the question as to whether Nigerians have internalized and neutralized much of the hate speeches or hate speeches are accumulating towards a future explosion? In other words, do hate speeches necessarily measure hatred of the other group in the Nigerian context? Could it be a unique Nigerian way of easing tension by throwing verbiage on the other person or group and, therefore, harmless? Can Nigeria really be Nigeria without “Hate Speeches” and Cyberethnicity?
It would have been preferable not to be going back to Rwanda but, in Africa, Rwanda still provides us the most horrifying consequences of the hate speech phenomenon in the post Cold War. The strategy of denoting the other as insects such as cockroaches and mosquitoes has been argued to constitute main condition of possibility for the genocide in Rwanda. The guns never boom until the words have boomed. The question though would be the extent to which hate speeches in Rwanda in the early 1990s and in fact the Rwandan polity is comparable to rising online hate speeches in Nigeria in 2016. Comparable or incomparable, does it mean we can ignore it? Many would say no and for good reasons.
One such reason would be the degree of damage done to the centre in Nigeria already via language. All manner of qualifiers are thrown at the state in Nigeria. It is not necessary for everyone to like a particular regime. Most Nigerian governments are so badly run that they are not likeable but does individual disinclination to a particular regime provide a license for anti-statism in a context in which the state is simply the only instrument for successful supervision of rapid social transformation? Can a semi-industrial and an extra-ordinarily complex African country such as Nigeria survive with a strong centre? Can Nigeria become anything in the world without such a transformation first? So, why do Nigerians deploy hate speeches against the Nigerian State? Could that be because Nigeria has not been such a success story? It is something to ponder about.
Words are seriously re-constituting the country. The discourse of federalism in Nigeria has veered off completely from its core of equal and balanced development. Nobody talks about federalism in those terms in Nigeria anymore which is a bit strange since in both formally and informally federal arrangement in much of the world, equal and balanced development is the underlining point in the theory as well as the practice of federalism.
Up to the 1995 Political Conference, it was the position, perhaps the unwritten position. That was why the Federal Character Commission was brought about. Contrary to the reduction of its mission to checking for balance in recruitment into federal agencies, it had a much more qualitative job of monitoring federalism. Monitoring federalism in the sense that every population centre is guaranteed basic development in amenities, in infrastructure, in social services – health, water, education, etc in every state of the federation. Even and balanced development through ingenious revenue allocation formula that enables advantages to balance out disadvantages so as to spread economic benefits is the essence of federalism anyway, both in capitalism as well as in Socialism. It dovetails into resolution or better management of the national questions.
Not only has this sense of federalism disappeared in Nigeria, it is being gradually but steadily replaced by entanglement in multiple, oil related crises, locally and globally, as to make an agriculture based development strategy that offers the country everything in the most rapid and holistic transformation in an agrarian country a priority. That is dangerous for the country. Oil was, indeed, a great commodity and still has some unexplored potentials. It is, however, not the commodity of the future anymore if it is at the expense of agriculture, particularly for countries such as Nigeria which are almost completely agrarian and do not have the technological and capital outlay to enjoy much room for maneuver in a market of powerful buyers. By now, Nigeria should have been out with a clear blueprint on a post oil economy as it commenced the cleaning up of Ogoni and other lands in the Niger Delta. It should have been both a symbolic and practical cleaning up.
If only to the extent of this example, hate speeches can have consequences that might not be just ethno-religious explosions but economic under cutting of the nation. The danger in the case of Nigeria could be frightening. One, Nigeria is such a vast country. Two, CITAD, a civil society organisation, has mounted an observatory on hate speeches. How many other NGOs are doing this? What about the media? Three, how structured is the Nigerian State in coping with this new sort of threat? Are government departments that should be documenting and indicating the implications of hate speeches doing that? Are they publicizing incidences of hate speeches and conscientising the populace? Are they making it clear to everyone that individuals bear the responsibility for his or her language use? And that anyone can be punished for his or her language use as we have seen from the trial and conviction in Rwanda? Above all, are they telling everyone who must listen that the binary reasoning of who is here and who is there that informs much of hate speeches have all become so problematic in the age of diffusion and that the best policy now is coming to grips with multiculturalism in one sense or the other. If, indeed, online hate speeches are rising in Nigeria, it is not a threat that the country should try confronting with escapism into talkativeness instead of a serious policy before hate speeches accumulate and create the atmosphere for anarchy.