The National Human Rights Commission has issued a stern warning to those spreading hate speech, urging them to reconsider their actions to prevent Nigeria from descending into chaos similar to Bosnia and Rwanda, emphasizing that such behavior is contrary to the principles of nationalism.
Furthermore, the Commission has outlined several measures it intends to take to rectify the issues arising from hate speech during the 2023 elections.
These measures include the establishment of a national hate speech register to document and monitor incidents of hate speech throughout Nigeria during future elections, providing training for its staff in identifying and reporting hate speech, and implementing enforcement mechanisms to address hate speech arising from the electoral process.
During a two-day roundtable event titled ‘The role of the media in countering and reporting hate speech,’ jointly organized with the United Nations in Nigeria, Tony Ojukwu (SAN), the Executive Secretary of NHRC, made these announcements. The event aimed to promote and safeguard human rights in line with the respective mandates of the NHRC and the United Nations.
In addition, Matthias Schmale, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, highlighted the positive impact of social media platforms in enabling the United Nations to engage with people worldwide in their pursuit of peace, dignity, and human rights within the context of a sustainable planet.
“But today, this same technology is often a source of fear, not hope. Digital platforms are being misused to subvert science and spread disinformation and hate to billions of people,” he said.
According to him, although traditional media can also contribute to disseminating hate speech and other forms of information pollution, the digital realm amplifies such hateful messages’ speed, quantity, and reach. This is primarily due to the anonymity that online platforms afford to the individuals spreading them.
Schmale said, “The world today faces an increasingly polluted information ecosystem. The proliferation of misinformation, fake news, disinformation, and hate speech in the digital space is causing grave global harm – now. It is fueling conflict, death, and destruction – now. It is threatening democracy and human rights – now. It is undermining public health and climate action – now.
“When social media emerged a generation ago, digital platforms were embraced as exciting new ways to connect. And, indeed, they have supported communities in times of crisis, elevated marginalized voices, and helped to mobilize global movements for racial justice and gender equality.”
In emphasizing the consequences of hate speech, Ojukwu highlighted its potential to incite violence, cause property damage, result in loss of life, disrupt governance, and hinder law enforcement. He further emphasized that without peace, the prospects of development remain elusive.
He said, “I don’t think any government would want crisis in its hands because if there is a crisis today, the President cannot govern; he has to suspend every other meeting and make sure that the situation is calmed down.
“So it is very important to deal with the problem of hate speech because of the consequences of not controlling hate speech, and that has happened in so many countries like Rwanda, Bosnia, and so many examples all over the world. We don’t need that to happen to us before we take the necessary precaution.
“For purveyors of hate speech, they should know that they are not doing what is nationalistic and that their action has the possible consequences of creating violence in the country. We will not let you rest; we will make sure you are held accountable for it.
“Experience has shown all over the world that uninhibited hate speech has led to a lot of violence and genocide. We surely don’t want that kind of situation here, so we think the UN and the human rights commission think that the major group to partner with is the media, and that is why we are here so that we can talk and see in our own environment how can we deal with this issue of countering hate speech.
“We don’t need to use anybody as a scapegoat, what we need to do is to enlighten people, and we are also trying to set up an accountability mechanism. Before we recommend anybody for prosecution, we give that person a fair hearing. It is all about informing people and making them understand the dangers of this and making them understand that if you create this kind of problem, you will be held accountable.”
“Having identified hate speech as an impediment to voter participation and access, the Commission is embarking on the following actions:
“Setting up of a national hate speech register to record incidences and reports of hate speech from across Nigeria
“Training of its staff on Monitoring and reporting hate speech and setting up enforcement mechanisms on hate speeches resulting from the electoral process.
“There is no gainsaying the impact hate speeches had in promoting violence, suppression, and other forms of human rights violation before, during, and after the elections.
“Following the conclusion of the elections and in looking forward to the three off-cycle state elections later in 2023, there is a need for stocktaking and to mobilize concerted efforts to strengthen the media in countering hate speech as a major precursor to achieving peaceful elections and social cohesion.”