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Hate speech fuelling farmer-herder conflict, threat to national unity-CEPAD

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Calls on public officials to curb use of provocative languages

•Criticism of govt actions, policies not hate speech

Jude Johnson 

The increased deployment of hate speech by Nigerians, especially the public officials to address national, regional and ethno-religious differences, has been fingered as one of the major factors fuelling the ongoing farmer-herder conflicts across the country.

This was one of the major highlights of the maiden Roundtable Discussion Series on Wednesday organised by the Centre for Peace and Development (CEPAD) of Veritas Catholic University in Abuja with the theme: “Curbing Hate Speech in Nigeria’s Public Space”.

The communique issued at the end of the dialogue and signed by the Director of CEPAD, Rev.Fr. Innocent Jooji, noted that with the plethora of fake news that has taken centre stage with the emergence of the social media, it would be necessary to appraise the consequences and likely implications of the phenomenon in the Nigerian society.

Jooji noted that one of the implications of the re-emergence of hate speech in Nigeria’s public space is “the recent conflicts that have plagued Nigeria in recent times”.

This was corroborated by the Vice-Chancellor of Veritas University, Prof. Michael Kwanashie, who acknowledged the need  to discuss the role of emerging technologies and fake news, and “the growing menace of inciting public speech”.

He listed the objectives of the first edition of the Roundtable Discussion to include: appraise the operational definition of hate speech in its entirety, especially as enshrined in Nigeria’s legal jurisprudence; identify clear incidences of hate speech in Nigeria; and identity means of eradicating hate speach from Nigeria’s public space.

The main discussants including: Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Abuja, Mr. Clement Nwankwo; Editor-In-Chief of Guardian Newspaper, Mr. Martins Oloja; Prof. Mnguember Vicky Sylvester of the Department of English, University of Abuja; and the Executive Director of Justice, Peace And Reconciliation Movement, Mrs. Justina Ngwobia, highlighted the tendency of hate speech transforming into a hate action at the detriment of Nigeria’s unity.

The roundtable also highlighted: “The consequences of hate speech are evident in the Agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy. This is seen in the cost implication of food items in the market as a result of farmers who have abandoned their farmland due ro the farmers/herdsmen conflicts.

“Hate speech presebtly poses a severe threat to our national unity in Nigeria. Hence hate speech is a constitutional issue and the debate on it needs to be properly discussed.”

The discussants, however clarified that “the rights of the citizens to criticise government on its lack of responsibility does not amount to hate speech, for the right to hold government accountable is safeguarded by section 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended)”.

They also noted that with the emergence of social media that has almost taken over the mainstream traditional sources of news, there is urgent need for a framework to guard its usage in Nigeria.

In the Communique, CEPAD agreed with the discussants and participants that over 70 percent of the hate speeches in Nigeria are being peddled by the elites, especially the government officials.

To this end, CEPAD called for action by government officials to curb the use of provocative words or language  in their speech and activities.

It also called on the government to be honest when addressing issues of public interest so as to build up trust and integrity with the citizens.

Other recommendations include: the call on the media to eradicate hate speech in news reporting; the Ministry of Education to introduce into our schools of learning (primary, secondary and tertiary) curriculum that address the consequences of hate speech; government to change its mode of operation in the tackling of communal clashes in Nigeria by tagging and describing conflicts by their true nature and not giving them the usual rhetoric  as communal clashes.

The roundtable also called on the national orientation agency to be alive to its mandate as an agency of national unity to carry out civic enlightenment campaigns to eradicate hate speech and promote national unity; political party leaders to promote national unity by toning down the language used in their campaigns so as not to overheat the polity; and security personnel to be fair, just and firm in discharging their duties.

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