IN about a couple of days from now, more than 68 million voters in Nigeria are expected to converge on various polling booths across the country to elect the nation’s leaders.
As politicians crisscross the nooks and crannies of the country in their electioneering, concerned observers, however, note the prevalence of hate speech among the contestants, just as political campaigns climax to a crescendo.
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, describes hate speech as a speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.
It further states that under the law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display, which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.
This is because hate speech is actionable in several countries, as a victim of hate speech may seek redress under the civil law, the criminal law, or both.
Political analysts are, nonetheless, of the view that hate speech remains one of the features of political campaigns, not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa.
They note that in Nigeria’s political history, particularly since the first elections held in the country under the 1922 Clifford Constitution, the Nigerian political terrain has been experiencing pockets of crisis that could be traced to hate speech, among other anti-social behaviours.
All the same, the problem is not country-specific, as it is more of a universal phenomenon.
For instance, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, the Chairman, Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), noted that the mayhem which trailed Kenyan elections in 2007 could be partly attributed to hate speech by some Kenyan politicians.
He, however, underscored the need to ensure that the Kenyan experience did not replicate itself in Nigeria.
Therein lies the wisdom in the sentiments of concerned Nigerians, the media, government agencies and relevant non-governmental organisations, calling on Nigerians to eschew hate speech or any other aberration that can incite confusion and violence in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.
Such calls, perhaps, tend to explain the rationale behind the organisation of the “Media Roundtable on Franchise 2015”, convened by the NHRC in Abuja
Prof. Bem Angwe, the Executive-Secretary of the NHRC, who spoke at the roundtable, bemoaned the prevalence of hate speech in the country, as the preparations toward the 2015 general elections reached a climax.
He said that the discussion was aimed at “examining the negative impact of hate speech and its likely attendant consequences on the electoral process and peaceful elections in the country”.
Angwe emphasised that the commission was not unmindful of the role which the media played in influencing the society’s conscience, adding that the media, therefore, remained an esteemed ally of the NHRC in efforts to tackle the menace of hate speech.
He solicited the media’s cooperation in efforts to facilitate the fulfilment of the commission’s assignment of promoting and protecting the rights of Nigerian citizens and other inhabitants of the country.
“We want to once more call on you to discuss openly with us on how we can work together to mitigate and reduce hate speech and incitements that can lead to violence during the 2015 general elections,” he said.
Odinkalu, however, informed the gathering of the commission’s plans to establish Election Violence Incidence Centre (EVIC), in addition to other precautionary measures aimed at checking the incidence of hate speech and other negative tendencies capable of disrupting the polls.
In what turned out to be an interactive session among media practitioners that attended the event, Angwe urged journalists to exercise caution in their reportage of political events.
“The media, therefore, need to play a constructive role in their reportage of political campaigns and rallies. The media also need to be strategic and tactical in deploying communication skills,” he said.
Angwe said that the NHRC recognised the responsibility of the media, as contained in Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, to hold government and individuals accountable for their actions, adding that such freedom and power, however, entailed responsibility.
“News reporting is one giant echo chamber; more particularly for the social media which use Twitter handles and Facebook.
“Bloggers should not provide their platforms for fanning the embers of disunity, tension and incitement to violence,” he urged media managers.
Nevertheless, the executive-secretary also called on politicians to exhibit decorum in their campaigns, in line with global best practices.
Angwe stressed that the Nigerian media could aid the nation-building process if they strictly abided by their code of ethics and professionalism, particularly as no one could easily predict the winners of the coming elections.
All the same, the participants of the roundtable were frank in speaking about the specific roles of stakeholders in stemming the menace of hate speech in the country’s political system.
From all indications, there was a general consensus on the urgent need to check hate speech before it escalated to uncontrollable proportions.
In this regard, the participants called on media managers to scrutinise all the press statements sent to their organisations by political parties, with a view to sieving out those that contained offensive elements and language.
They, however, insisted that media ownership factors tended to aggravate the problem, underscoring the need for proprietors of media houses to allow their employees to adhere strictly to the tenets of objective journalism.
They added that this would go along to douse the crises that were often brewed by the use of hate speech during campaign rallies or electioneering.
The participants particularly underscored the need for editors, as the news gatekeepers, to curb the incidence of hate speeches in their reports on political activities.
They, however, expressed utmost concern about some developments in the country’s political terrain, citing some offensive advertisements in the media as some of the worrying incidents.
They called on the NHRC to enforce the extant laws that prescribed sanctions for offences relating to hate speech, to serve as deterrent to those who might want to engage in such divisive and derisive rhetoric.
Mr Sunny Daniels of Vangaurd Newspaper called on advertising agencies and the Nigerian Press Council to partner with the NHRC in efforts to enforce laws on unethical practices among their members, with a view to bring the culprits to book.
Other participants also called on the NHRC to organise similar forum for the publicity secretaries of political parties to sensitise them to the need to dish out press statements that were free of offensive elements.
In all, the participants and the NHRC, the organiser of the roundtable, agreed that politics should aim at promoting nation-building efforts and not divisive tendencies capable of fomenting animosity and anarchy in the society.
Additional contributions by IKENNA UWADILE, DADA AHMED

Related News