The National Human Rights Commission, on Tuesday said it had decided to start keeping records of hate speeches and the people who are behind them. “We are going to name and shame them; we will publish them publicly and make sure that they are held accountable through the use of the law enforcement agencies.”
Ben Angwe, the Executive Secretary of the commission, stated this at the Kukah Centre and MacArthur Foundation Roundtable on Hate Speech in Abuja. Represented by Tony Ojukwu, an officer in the commission, Angwe said that freedom of expression allowed individuals to criticise government’s performances but was being abused in the country. He condemned unsavoury utterances by some politicians against their opponents in their campaigns.
He said by using the mechanisms available under the law, people would be discouraged from the use of abusive words in the future. He noted that there were conditions under which freedom of expression could be restricted, especially when it injures the reputations of others.
Angwe said that statements that constituted hate speeches could provoke people to violence, incite them against others’ religions, tribes and standards of life. “We had the issue of violence after the 2011 elections where more than one million Nigerians were affected and properties worth almost N40billion were lost.”
“We cannot afford that at this point in time and that is why all stakeholders are trying to do one thing or the other to prevent the possibility of violence before, during or after the elections,” he said “When you call the opposition cockroaches, pigs or make statements that some people and their religion or ethnic origin are prone to dying in office, you are provoking them.”
He said such statements may not matter to some educated individuals but could provoke illiterate audience to violence. “If you look at the level of literacy in Nigeria, to most trained minds, these things may not mean much but for the untrained minds, it can incite them to violence,” he said. “Until now, nobody is held responsible; people do these things and get away freely.” He said by using the mechanisms available under the law, people would be discouraged from the use of abusive words in the future.
Dr Jideofor Adebe, a Political Scientist and Media Commentator, said the current campaigns in the country were noisy with people competing to have their ways. Adebe noted that campaign speeches in some jurisdictions like the U.S. and the UK, were protected. He said that there were some parameters for knowing when a comment becomes a hate speech in the developed world. Adebe said such parameters should be applied in the Nigerian context to avoid provocations that could result in violence.