Fake news and hate speech are intertwined. They are more similar than different. Their similarity is that they cause havoc. It was fake news, nay, hate speech that precipitated the Rwandan genocide.
During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, radio broadcasts played an important role in inciting ordinary citizens to take part in the massacres of their Tutsi and moderate Hutu, neighbours.
Hate speech has never promoted national unity and cohesion anywhere in the world.
Prof. Okwudiba Nnoli, chronicled the devastating effect and consequences of hate speech, nay, Intemperate Utterances on the Nigerian nation in his book `Ethnic Politics in Nigeria.’
According to Nnoli, “intemperate utterances of some Nigerian aspiring to leadership positions, arising from personal ambitions have contributed significantly to the growth of interethnic hostility in Nigeria.’’
Hate speech and fake news are dreaded by leaders across the world as a result of its destructive effects.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, when he held the forte during President Muhammadu Buhari’s absence, at the various meetings with stakeholders warned against hate speech.
He strongly warned against making hate and divisive speeches capable of snowballing into a conflagration.
The vice-president said that hate and divisive statements could lead to violence and destruction of human lives and property.
“As part of living together, I know that misunderstandings and frustrations will always arise and people will always want to get the best part of the deal, but we must be careful to recognise that we can only begin to talk about any part of anything if we are together in peace.
“These days, wars do not end and I am sure that those who have seen or experienced war in any shape or form will not wish it for their worst enemies.
“This is not a time to retreat behind ethnic lines; moments like these are not for isolating ourselves. I want to urge all of us here and for the entire Nigerian populace to come together and work together.’’
In the same vein, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, said that fake news at any level had the potential to threaten the peace, security and the corporate existence of the country.
He described fake news as a scourge that must be discouraged.
According to him, the biggest prank that can consume the world today is fake news and if not curtailed its consequences might be worst than all the crises that the world has witnessed.
Mohammed also said that fake news had the potential to set up one community against the other and one country against another.
“In particular, in a country like Nigeria which is multi-ethnic and religious, fake news and hate speech are time bomb.
“Fake news is a global issue, it is not just a Nigerian issue but we are more concerned about Nigeria because of the potential it has to our corporate existence,” Mohammed said.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, also condemned hate speech.
Ekweremadu at an event in Enugu organised by Rotary International, District 91422 Nigeria, said the country was more divided today than at any other time in her peacetime history.
“It is not enough to preach against hate speeches.
“ We must also guard against hate conducts in our various capacitates because hate conducts are not only worse than hate speeches, but they also beget hate speeches, strife, and restiveness.
“So, as leaders at our various levels, we must emulate those special virtues of Nelson Mandela – forgiveness, egalitarianism, love, tolerance, equity and justice in our personal conducts in order to inspire unity, peace, and patriotism.
“As citizens, let us exemplify the kind heartedness of Mother Teresa, the non-violence and selflessness of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and the tenacity of Chief Awolowo and his commitment to human capital development and excellence through hard work.
“Only by such personal and exemplary conducts can we lift our society and engender peace, unity and development,” Ekweremadu stressed.
Religious leaders were also not left out in their condemnation against hate speeches.
John Cardinal Onaiyekan, at a recent homily in Akparabong, Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River, condemned the proliferation of hate speeches in the country.
“The church of God is supposed to be a sign and instrument of what great things God is doing in our world. Our church should be a sign of the goodness of God so that anybody who has seen the church will say this is how God’s community should be.
“This is particularly important today when religion has almost become something else. With harsh language, hate speech, and always believing it is just me and my religion, others are finished.
The Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Church, is wonderful, but please let us not forget that God has given us a wonderful community. We must be signs and instruments of his mission on earth.
“We should be found to be constantly there working for peace and love. Not just thinking only about how we can be saved, how we can prosper against others.
“Pray for the nation which we live. We are not alone and what happens to our nation is not only our concern, but our responsibility. If we do our part we can make a difference in our country.’’
He appealed to Nigerians not to be disorganised by the excesses of a few individuals, who have constituted themselves to `terrorists’ who are bent on destroying the nation.
`There should be a grand alliance of all men and women of goodwill across the country, north and south, all tribes, all religions.
“Let us link hands and work together. If we link hands and work together and spread messages of peace, then all the noise would go away,’’ Onaiyekan said.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, also decried the preponderance of hate speech, especially as the 2019 elections draw nearer.
The monarch said that the traditional institution was in support of the recent move by the Federal Government to criminalise hate speech and fake news.
The sultan, who spoke in Abuja at the Annual Lecture Series and 25th Anniversary of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), added that hate speech should be declared as a terrorism offence.
The monarch said that the phenomenon of hate speech and fake news had reached an alarming state, adding that decisive action should be taken by the government.
Retired Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, also decried the alarming rate of hate speech in the polity.
He said although the phenomenon was not new, government must be decisive in addressing the trend.
Al-Mustapha said there was international dimension to sponsorship of hate speech, especially by those who had seen the potential of Nigeria.
He said local collaborators were being recruited as merchants to use fake news to subvert the nation and advised NBC to create synergy with international intelligence community in addressing the challenge.
Mrs Farida Waziri, former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), appealed to politicians to make their agenda for Nigerians their focus rather than dwell on issues that would further divide the people.
Waziri, who spoke recently at an event in Lagos, stressed that the country needed peace and unity to have a successful 2019 general elections.
“For me, I believe the elections will hold as scheduled. My only concern is the level of toxicity in the statements of some political leaders.
“This is not really good for the polity, especially now that election campaigns will formally begin in a matter of days from now.
“So, this is the time for every patriotic political leader, especially those aspiring for offices and who will be going round to mobilise the people, to avoid hate speech capable of inciting their followers and supporters into violence.
“We cannot afford to set the country on fire with our words; I think the people will be more interested in the plans, programmes and agenda for them than toxic words that breed violence,” the former EFCC boss said.
The picture is clear, the promoters of the current hate speech are politicians. It assumed alarming dimension as those seeking various elective positions hid under hate speech to score political points.
Therefore, those to check the current hate speech, are those holding exalted political offices, religious leaders, among others. (NANFeatures)