-Government’s Handling of Hate Speech does not Appear to be Even –
Clement Nwankwo, Civil Rights Activist and Lawyer, has stated that the current government in Nigeria does not appear to be even in its handling of purveyors of hate speech across the country. He stated this last night on Politics Today, a program of Channels Television, where he featured along with Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media. The topic of discussion was the fine line between freedom and hate speech.
Nwankwo said that although Nigeria is signatory to the international criminal court treaty which prohibits hate crime and spells out how to curb hate speeches, “the problem has been that the government does not appear to be very even in the way it has handled this”. He explained that “when a group in Kaduna issued a threat against a southern ethnic group, government promised that that group was going to be apprehended and prosecuted. What we saw was that that group was hobnobbing with government and even sitting with government in conferences.”
The Civil Rights Activist suggested that “government must in its own actions show that it is prepared to govern in a very even way with equality at the back of its mind, in terms of providing development, in terms of providing infrastructure. You must spread it across the country in order to reduce the resentment and anger that is pervading the country today.”
Clement Nwankwo’s position was in reaction to Garba Shehu, who stated on the program that the APC led government in Nigeria is acting in line with other governments across the globe whose leaders are taking proactive action to curb hate speech without necessarily interfering with the rights of their citizens. Shehu said: “Freedom of expression is a qualified freedom. Your freedom rights, as much as you can, stops where the freedom rights of others begin. So therefore, it is not an unqualified freedom that you continue to just say anything. Everywhere across the globe, they are watching and taking action”. He said that the social media is being monitored globally and cited the United Kingdom as an example of a country whose Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently said that if Facebook had given the profile of a suspect, that suspect would have been apprehended and stopped from attacking that country’s parliament.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media added that “Nigerians should give a chance and believe in the fact that this government is a Nigerian government. It is not an alien government. This government has shown the best conduct in dealing with the Nigerian press. Do you have any journalist or organization that you know that is locked up on instruction of this government? We have dealt most fairly with the mass media in this country.”
However, he said that “we will not just fold our hands and see bigots set this country on fire.”
When the Presenter of the programme, Seun Okinbaloye, asked if it would get to a point where government may shut down some social media platforms, Garba Shehu responded that “we could. I am not in position to say Yes or No. But what I would tell you is that it is already happening in other countries.”
Clement Nwankwo quickly interjected that it would be counter-productive of government to shut down any social media platform. Rather, he suggested that: “What it needs to do is provide even development and ensure that people who preach hate are evenly treated across the country. So, if people are preaching hate from the South-East or South-West or the North-East or the North-West, they must equally be brought to account and government must be seen to do so. It is the fact that people perceive that government is not even in doing so that is even exacerbating the existing hate that we see in the country today. Government must take action to see that tribalism, ethnicity and all of these, and hate language that is pervading the state is brought to some control.”
“Politics Today” is aired every Monday from 7:00pm to 7:30pm on Channels Television.
- Cornelius Ellah