The 1994 Rwanda genocide, described as the one of the most horrific crimes against humanity since the Holocaust of World War II of 1945, had come and gone, but analysts say its impact on humanity remains fresh in many minds, particularly the survivors.
Analysts have argued that the genocide which set tongues wagging was heavily instigated by hate communication as exemplified by media reports, especially the radio broadcast that fuelled the sectarian crisis leading to the mother of battle in Africa in that country.
This negative development culminated in the crisis that cost Rwanda no fewer 800,000 lives and destruction of property.
Hate communication, therefore, has become a worrisome phenomenon due to its negative impact in fuelling socio-economic and political crises in any society globally without recourse to regional, ethnic, political and other divisive boundaries.
The Nigerian society is not immune to hate communication and the Federal Government says it is not letting things lie low in mitigating the effect of it, particularly among the political class.
Keen observers of political development in the country described government action as apt as stemming hate communication will go a long way in dousing tension toward the 2019 general elections and make the exercise peaceful.
Worried about the cases of hate communication in the country, the Nigeria Press Council, in conjunction with World and Image Limited, recently organised a one day workshop on hate communication, with the theme, “Hate Communication in Nigeria: Identify its Roots and Remedies.”
Declaring the workshop open, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Abuja, reminded Nigerians that hate communication should not be seen as free speech. He, therefore, urged the media not to offer their platforms for hate communication.
The minister noted that the fastest way to nip the dangers of hate speech in the bud was for journalists to say no to the trend.
“I have always said that hate speech is not free speech.
“For example, while the Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, it does not guarantee freedom of hate speech.
“That’s because hate speech could be the precursor of violence, of genocide!,” he said.
Mohammed noted that a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society like Nigeria could not afford to allow hate speech to thrive.
“A fledgling democracy like ours is too fragile to luxuriate in hate speech. We must all say NO to hate speech,” he said.
He commended the seriousness the Nigerian media for the time devoted to mitigating the dangers of hate communication.
“The fact that the media takes this issue seriously is very encouraging because in most cases, the media – wittingly or unwittingly – provides the platform for the dissemination of hate speech.
The Lead Consultant, Word and Image, Chief Jide Adebayo, expressed worry over increasing instances of hate communication in the country and stressed the need for journalists to be in the vanguard of checking the development.
The Chairman of the occasion, Mr Bayo Onanuga, also decried the growing level of hate communication in the country.
Onanuga who is the Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), expressed worry that hate communication was capable of disrupting the corporate existence of the country.
He said that the workshop was apt, adding that the theme was germane to the national mood, considering the prevalence of hate speech.
“It is something to worry about and it is worrisome to me as a Nigerian, because the way hate speech is being ventilated every time gives me fear whether there will be a nation in this country in next few months or years,” he said.
Ononuga said that Sections 29 and 38 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right of every Nigerian to freedom of speech, expression, freedom of thought and freedom to hold opinion.
Onanuga said all the Human Rights Charter signed by Nigeria like the UN Declaration on Human Rights and African Charter on Human Rights guarantee the freedom of expression.
He, however, said that Section 45 of the Constitution expressly states that all these”freedom are not absolute”.
“It is this lacuna of the law of our freedom not being absolute that decides what you call hate speech and libel.”
Ononuga, therefore, urged the Federal Government to invoke the relevant laws like Cyber Crime Act to control the epidemic of hate speech before it destroys the society.
The Lead Consultant, Word and Image Ltd, Chief Jide Adebayo, said ‘’We are here because our children are from this country and we owe them the responsibility of bequeathing to them a country of mutual trust and love, where they can attain the best of their potential.
“We are here because we are a people of purpose, a people of solution, a people of intellect, and a people of direction, who are convinced that solution to national challenge lies with the people and with the professionals.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Sen. Suleiman Adoke, said that ‘’hate speech is a global challenge to the extent that social media is being considered for censorship.’’
He called on the politicians and media practitioners in the country to be cautious of the trend, in order not to throw the country into crisis.
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Press Council (NPC), Mr Nnamdi Njemanze, said the workshop was conceived to x-ray the causes and remedies to hate communication in the country.
The NPC boss advised media practitioners to adhere to ethical principles as part of efforts to counter hate speech in the country.
He stressed the need for the traditional media and other media professionals to focus more on professionalism and effective gate-keeping to guide non-professional players.
Njemanze also enjoined journalists and editors to avoid the bandwagon mentality driven by the social media, to break the news no matter how poorly processed.
Njemanze said that media professionals must strenuously balance between freedom of expression and respect for equality, justice and dignity.
“We must not also gloss over the rift and fault lines thrown up by this phenomenon, but rather seek ways of intermediation.
“If we do so, the other adjunct of hate mongering, false news will also be addressed to the barest minimum through subjection of the news process to the best practice of verification, accuracy, balance and fairness.
“In a multi-ethnic and diverse society such as Nigeria with centrifugal tendencies, the phenomenon of hate speech or communication calls for the interrogation of fundamental principles that underpin our nation to address the root of these insidious inclinations in some of us.”
The President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), AbdulWaheed Odusile, called for national dialogue on hate speech to bring all stakeholders together with a view to reminding them about their roles in countering hate speech.
Dr Segun Olanipekun, whose paper dwells on ‘’Nigeria: Communication and the Social Construct of Hate Mural,” cautioned journalists to be wary of the manner of social construct they use in dissemination information to the public to check hate communication.
He describes social construct as one of the key concepts in sociology indicating the way and manner groups of people create meanings through social interaction in their frequent interacting with one another in a common language or culture.
“They do these through repeatedly and commonly held language, sounds, symbols, gestures, dance, food, even colours.
“These are some of the ‘tools’ that are used to socially construct our viewpoint of reality. Thus, this social construction of reality often separates us,’’ he said.
Prof. Nnamdi Ekeanyanwu, who spoke on “Social Media Platforms: For information or Disinformation’’ recommended convocation of a sovereign national conference or surgical restructuring of Nigeria.
Professor Usman Pate, who spoke on “National Interest, National Security and Security Reporting’’ stressed the need for journalists to be mindful of their role in ensuring peace and development in the country.
He called on media professionals to adhere to ethical and professional codes of practice and engage in investigative journalism.
“Media practitioners must at all times have the nation’s national interest at heart in their news reportage and in opinion leadership,’’ he said.
Ahmed writes for News Agency of Nigeria.