By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah
The hate speech epidemic in Nigeria is raging on, and the need for stopping them by legislation is trending. But like begets like, or at least some semblance of it, and so it is with hate speeches. Raised in Hausaland, you speak Hausa; from Yorubaland, you speak Yoruba; and Igbo from Iboland. You saw your parents and siblings act in a particular way when some sounds were made and so learnt that very sound when you want that action done. Gradually this replaces crying to demand for food or other things, for example. In terms of hate and hate speech, the child learns ‘’hatese”.
Put another way, a “generation” is the product of another generation. There is no “spontaneous generation” as that concept was proved wrong not long after it was propounded. Everything came out of something. Products come from factories and cultures develop over time, out of the practices and omissions of people. In the same way, hate speeches are products of the way (actions and inactions) we have developed our culture. We have made outright hate speeches during electioneering campaigns, for instance. In 2015, some politicians were quoted to incite while their opponents openly made disrespectful comments (at least by national standards) about a septuagenarian candidate.
Our clergy make hate speeches every day. They refer to other religions and their adherents with disdain and sow seeds of dislike, loathing, abhorrence and outright hate and incitements during their sermons. Regional and tribal groupings, rather than talk about how to develop their people, promote dislike and hatred. They promote exclusion by urging their members to favour their own kind in any position they hold by making all recruitments, appointments, contracts, promotions, etc to have obvious nepotistic inclinations. These were initially done quietly but now they are accomplished brazenly. Check any organization (ministry, department, parastatal or NGO) with a long sitting chief executive and you will find a disproportionate distribution of staff in favour of his/her tribe or social/religious grouping. Shame.
This informs agitation for tribal or religious representation in even the government to the detriment of merit. Some elected officials practice exclusion because one part of the country did not vote for them massively. I have mentioned this error elsewhere. Once someone participates in an election he contributes to your victory by legitimizing it. If he had boycotted it the legitimacy is eroded. The victor in an election takes all, including power to rule over the whole realm and not only for those who voted him and the responsibility to care for all.
One chief executive was rumoured to have sent hundreds of students consisting only of people of his religious persuasion for postgraduate training abroad. This will not court love from the excluded people but hatred, the expression of which will be dubbed hate speech.
People show discrimination even with the distribution of relief materials, creating the potential for hate speeches even in the hearts of displaced individuals!
Aside the fact that these things are done, society has condoned them and so encouraged them. They are expected of any appointee who is actually pressured to do so. Some people lose out and anger and hatred surge up in them. We have also set up stereotypes which irk those concerned the moment we suggest them.
These emotions are contained but happen over and over again. Hate speeches are made in secret until one day, like some months ago, they are made public and repeated like fast growing viruses over the social media. So hate speech evolution is traceable.
And talking about an evolution, it is not what legislation can stop. It may send it underground but it will thrive and resurface again and again until the right thing is done. Legislation may also be difficult to craft, but that is the headache of legislators. We will have to get a new, encompassing name as some of the speeches are writings (comments, jokes, satirical works, etc) posted anonymously and retrievable from the World Wide Web. What constitutes a hate speech will have to be defined or else anybody in power or position who hates another will just accuse him of hate speech, making it another tool of victimization.
Opposing or criticising a government will be hate speech. No, legislation won’t do. It is a short cut that will not address the causes. It will be an attempt to put out fire emanating from a gas pipe without turning off the source of gas. Legislation will be asking those doing all the wrongs that lead to hate speech to continue unchallenged. It will maintain the status quo of systematized discrimination, cheating, nepotism, etc. It will muzzle people and make monsters of rulers who love puffery and must be clapped for even when they deserve thumbs down. And even when you succeed in muting the verbal or written expressions of feelings and opinions, you make what you fear of hate speeches come faster.
So what should rather be done? First and obvious, let us be serious about stopping hate speeches. That will mean carefully addressing the issues that lead to hate speeches. Fairness should be a watch word in governance at any level. Attempts should be made to clarify actions that are misunderstood. Even when people wrongly feel aggrieved, things should be made clear to them.
Next, step up your education about the next person and your stereotypes will change or cease.
Thirdly, try love speech. For example, columnists from different ethnic groups should write to extol the industry of the Ibos, the cultural wealth of the Yorubas and the good neighbourliness of the Hausas. The story of the bravery of the Bachamas and the aquatic dexterity of the Ijaws can be told. Do you know how trustworthy a Fulani man can be with whatever is kept in his care?
Also be honest during election campaigns. During the campaigns in the last elections, one party told us the other party did nothing in their sixteen years of power. This was not only an outright lie but an assumption that our memories were blank.
On the other hand, the party that was ruling was giving the impression we could not have had it better. This was another lie, of course.
The other election-period hate speech evolutionary mishap was the sudden shift of Royal Fathers from non-partisanship to voiced partisanship. They lost their cool and respect and openly took sides. The candidates they were not supporting will naturally dislike them, given the opinion – shaping might of their actions.
Another thing to do is to begin or step up actions that endear you to others. Call them love actions. Can’t a delegation of Jukuns visit the Tivs during their cultural festivals and the Tor Tiv send a delegation to the Aku Uka to congratulate him on his anniversary as the Paramount ruler, for examples)?
One prominent politician from the North-East donates for Church buildings if that is the people’s principal need even though he is a Muslim. Will they hate him for that?
In my village the Christians live with Fulanis who are Muslims and speak their language just as they speak ours. We celebrate when someone is commissioned as a Pastor or an Imam. We exchange gifts at Sallah and Christmas. Little wonder hatred is very low among us. If you are a Christian traveling in company of Muslims, what will it take for you to oblige them stop and pray even when you are the driver? If you do will they dislike you? And when they pray for safety on the trip are you not a beneficiary?
A true story will drive home my points here. Recently, at the peak of the Southern Kaduna crisis, the old people in a village performed their roles as shapers of the way the youth should think and act. My uncle was traveling to Kaduna from Abuja when a kid suddenly ran across the expressway through a Christian dominated village. He tried to dodge but knocked down and killed the kid. He had the opportunity to escape but decided that he cannot kill somebody and run away. People gathered and, on discovering that my uncle was a Hausa man and a Muslim, wanted to lynch him. He was beaten badly before policemen and road safety officials rescued him.
Few days after getting to Kaduna, he decided to come and commiserate with the family of the deceased against all dissuasion. Meanwhile the elders of the village had reprimanded the youths for their actions and were wondering how they could get to my uncle to apologise. He got to the village, asked for the house of the deceased and met the elders there. They apologized to him and got the youths to do so while he commiserated with the family.
They asked for his address and sent a delegation to his house to officially apologise and console him on his losses and injuries. Beautiful! My uncle acted the way an elderly person should while that village’s elders did what is expected of them. The cycle of hatred was broken and the youth will not do same again, or at least they have been shown the right thing.
When we encourage and vigorously act out love actions and speeches, the next generation will do just that, for like begets like. This is not to diminish the present evils of the social media, but we will have a better society with respectful and less aggrieved people using them.
Dah, an Abuja-based medical practitioner can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org