THE battle against hate speech may be revving up in the opinion of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), but neither the organisation nor anyone else has come forward with a fairly acceptable definition of hate speech, at least in these parts. So far, according to the director general of the NBC, Is’haq Kawu, since the beginning of this election cycle campaigns, four television stations had been deserving of sanctions. He indicated why, and in addition disclosed that the offenders had been notified and fined. No one has yet heard from the alleged offenders, especially whether they accept or reject their indictments.
In the words of Mr Kawu: “We monitored live rallies and campaigns of the parties and in recent times, live political rallies of political parties have been laced with indecent and abusive language, name calling and vehement allegations and use of hate speech. For instance, on January 10, 2019, at the presidential campaign rally of the PDP broadcast by the AIT, the national chairman of the party accused INEC of rigging previous elections and threatened crisis if elections were rigged. Some of the excerpts were: ‘We want to warn INEC, all the previous elections you rigged and you escaped, the 2019 elections, you cannot escape unless you want to cause crisis in Nigeria. Let us warn Prof Yakubu; if you want to cause crisis in Nigeria, rig the elections. If you want peace, elections must be free and fair.’ That is from The PDP.”
Mr Kawu then added: “At a live APC governorship rally held on Friday, January 3, 2019, and aired on the NTA, a stalwart of the APC, Rotimi Amaechi, was quoted as saying: ‘I will just continue to say the truth. The truth I will tell you is that they are telling Nigerians that Nigerians are hungry. Indeed, if Nigerians are hungry, if these people left money they stole, will Nigerians be hungry? Exactly the $2bn that they stole. At least, I know about that one, we will not be here today.’ The party chairman also added: ‘You must remember that the last PDP government turned Plateau workers to slaves and so on and so forth.’ The expressions in the excerpts captured, can be seen to be abusive and not decent for broadcast contrary to certain sections of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code: 525, 533.”
The NBC boss is right to identify the premature announcements of election results by unauthorised persons in 1983 as partly contributing to the election violence that convulsed Nigeria that year. Such unauthorised announcements are of course to be deprecated, for they could dispose aggrieved voters and stakeholders to self-help. But it is doubtful whether the election violence of 2011, in which aggrieved voters and vested interests in the North vented their spleen on the innocent, was caused by premature or unauthorised announcement of election results. Indeed, for every election cycle, different reasons may explain the violence that sometimes accompany the release of unfavourable results.
However, Mr Kawu’s specific examples appear to fall far short of conventional hate speech definition. According to a dictionary, hate speech is “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.” In the case Mr Kawu sets against the AIT, the referenced speaker, who is probably the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), warned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to beware of rigging the votes. It is of course one thing for the allegations against INEC to be truthful, it is another thing to describe it as hateful. Both lie and hate can dispose any community to violence, and they should be absolutely deplored. But it is also important to correctly identify the problem before proposing the solution.
In the second example indicated by Mr Kawu, the remarks of both the Transport minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) chairman, is even less compliant with hateful speech definition. The NBC boss says the remarks were abusive and unfit for broadcast. It is hard to understand what Mr Kawu is talking about. Yes, the APC statements are strong and unfavourable to the opposition, but they do not in any way amount to abuse or hate speech. Are they fit for broadcast or publication? Absolutely. The NBC must be wary of excessive regulation and needless censorship. Mr Kawu talks of acquiring machines to filter statements. There are equipment that filter cuss words, but to demand for normal statements to be filtered simply because the opposition might deprecate them is asking for too much.
How would Mr Kawu describe the many statements and labels made by the United States Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaigns against his opponents? During the presidential primaries, Mr Trump, for example, described one of his opponents, Ted Cruz, as lying Ted, and another, Jeb Bush, as low-energy, and yet another, Hillary Clinton, as crooked Hillary. These labels may be deplorable, but to classify them as hate speech is stretching credulity too far. Politicians can call themselves names, and though it would be deplorable, they do not amount to hate speech. They can warn one another against electoral shenanigans; it also does not amount to hate speech. Mr Kawu may have tried to be representative in his examples, but he must be exceedingly careful not to abridge or circumscribe free speech or hamstring the media.