Beyond the Social Media in Nigeria’s Hate Speech Prevalence
A major feature of the discourse of the hate speech phenomenon is its tight association with the media. “Sound track for genocide” is how the role of the radio in the genocide in Rwanda was described. Before Rwanda is the UN Report of the International Commission into the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, a portion of which says, for instance, that the real culprit in the long list of executions, assassinations, drownings, burnings, massacres and atrocities furnished by the report were not the Balkan peoples but “those who mislead public opinion and take advantage of the people’s ignorance to raise disquieting rumours and sound the alarm bell, inciting their country”. In those days, it was the media broadly. It still is but the social media is most harped upon in terms of the carrying the can.
There is no question about it that the politics of representation implicates the media in conflict because all representation is politics. But the contextual requirement in the determination of meaning brings up the question of the larger conditions underpinning hate speech. What might be those conditions in the case of perceived rising incidence of hate speech in and about contemporary Nigeria? In this report, Intervention synthesises the perspectives into five major such conditions below, listed in no particular order.
The Geopolitical Context
This refers to the continuous representation of Nigeria as a candidate for implosion. Beginning from the emergence of books such as Karl Maier’s This House Has Fallen to late Muammar Gaddafi’s statement that Nigeria should be divided into the north and the south to the 2004 US National Intelligence Council, (NIC) scenario insight about Nigeria’s plausible implosion in 2015 and the subsequent US construction of much of Africa as an ungoverned space, a fairly consistent narrative of Nigeria as an unviable project has been sustained. As every discourse implies its own prescription, all the forces behind these narratives stand implicated in a geopolitical gaze of Nigeria as heading for a crash, including local intellectuals, politicians and other actors who, consciously and/or unconsciously, reproduce this hegemonic discursivity. For, many Nigerians have internalised a belief in the unviability of Nigeria. They have swallowed a poisonous conviction which justifies distancing from a perceived failing project, no more worthy of further devotion.
Instructively, Martin Luther Agwai, a former Chief of Army Staff of the Nigerian Army asked in a recent interview about how many people love Nigeria being a country. He also talked about how internal cracks enable Lizards to penetrate a house. Who are the lizards under reference? He certainly could not have meant that the United States, for instance, has a specific plan to undo Nigeria. However, in the context of its ambition for global primacy and the way ‘China in Africa’ challenges that, the US might find a profitable great power antic in spatializing Nigeria as a failing state. Implied here is that it is, therefore, people who consume such stuff without locating such representation of Nigeria in the global geopolitical context that have themselves to blame. Analysts in this school find the origin of hate speech phenomenon here. Agreeable or not, convincing or not, this is one major perspective of the context of rising hate speeches in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Harvest of Conflicts Thesis
Those attributing rise of hate speech from this perspective point to the long line of sometimes violent conflicts that have attended nation building in Nigeria and the bitterness they could have generated. It is a long list: the Nigerian Civil War; the numerous coups and the losers each one produced; the Maitatsine revolt and what academician Abba Jauro has called the Reserve Force for Right Wing Backlash; the Orkar Coup which was unusual and can be seen as an extreme case of attempt to restructure; the Abacha reign, particularly the complicated message it sent in the way it handled such political personalities as Abiola, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Sultan Dasuki and Oladipo Diya; the rise of NADECO and the Yoruba management of violence as a strategy of accessing power; the Obasanjo presidency; the Sharia crisis; the MOSOP/MEND continuum and the subsequent making of the Jonathan presidency; Boko Haram which can be seen as another extreme case of attempt to restructure; the return of Buhari and the resurgence of state rejectionism; the MASSOB/IPOB continuum and the struggle for power in Nigeria; Jos/Southern Kaduna/Herdsmen violence mixture and the politics of History.
The essentially elitist nature of the majority of these tussles perhaps explains why and how Nigeria has absorbed each and every one of them without collapsing as would most likely have been the case in many other countries in Africa. But each and every of them left losers who are not likely to be seeing Nigeria and other Nigerians from the same lens as the winners. That is if a strictly winner/loser binary exists.
The Leadership Gap
The established wisdom is that the trouble with Nigeria is lack of the self-conscious leadership. People who believe that a major condition for the rise of hate speech is poor leadership connect the two by saying that Nigeria’s misfortune is that it has not had her own Nehru, Ghandi and Mandela to see her grow. The military remodelled the country from the regions to 36 states, introduced a very radical local government reform and did a few other things right but developmental or transformative leadership eluded them. They then became a contrast of their counterparts in Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, for examples as far as development is concerned. In these places, the military superintended considerable industrialisation. In Nigeria, the military set up industries – Ajaokuta, ALSCON, the paper mills, the steel rolling mills and so on – which could have kick started industrialisation but which all got stalled and are eventually being sold as scraps. The military’s undoing in terms of leadership, as a key argument here goes, is that it happened because transfer of investible fund outside was a major feature of that leadership. That left nothing for re-investment. With nothing left for re-investment, Nigeria is today in the embarrassing situation of talking about less than 5000 megawatts for a population of nearly 200 million. Meanwhile, investible fund from Nigeria is awash in other countries, contributing to giving them the prosperity the Nigerians are crying for. It is amazing how many billions of dollars are in safe havens outside Nigeria.
So, beyond the crisis of corruption, there is also a crisis of the proceeds of corruption being taken out rather than invested in Nigeria. Nigeria is yet to find a way of saying that those who made money in the country must re-invest it in the country. Why can’t this happen vis-a-vis leadership? For, in the absence of transformative leadership who becomes a symbol of hope and reference point across the divides, Nigeria’s over generous material endowment cannot, in itself, amount to anything, development wise. Without such a symbolism, the idealism that drives love for one’s country will remain lacking in the average citizen and the tendency of such citizens to be hateful of the Other and the country itself.
Part 2 follows shortly