EDITORIAL: When line between freedom of expression and hate speech becomes blurred

EDITORIAL: When line between freedom of expression and hate speech becomes blurred

On 6th June, 2017, a coalition of Northern youth groups rose from a news conference in Kaduna where it issued an ultimatum for Igbo people living in the North to leave before Oct. 1. This has initiated a series of similar heated calls that have caused ripples in the polity

The coalition also ordered people of Northern extraction living in the South-Eastern part of the country to return to the North.

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In response to the quit notice issued to the Igbo, a coalition of Niger Delta militants asked the Federal Government to return all oil blocks owned by northerners to oil producing communities.

While there is freedom of expression in Nigeria, AljazirahNigeria opines that freedom of speech is certainly not equal freedom to say vague, treasonable and callous words capable of inciting violence and breakdown of law and order.

Hate speech is so pervasive in Nigeria that it is doubtful if there are many Nigerians that are completely free from the vice. Today it is evident all over the internet going by interactions by youths on numerous online platforms. This does not strengthen unity or the cords of oneness.

The irony is that people who usually complain of being insulted by other ethnic groups often use even more hateful words in describing the groups they feel have insulted them.

It is against this background that AljazirahNigeria appeals to members of the public to soft pedal on the use of hate speeches and hatred for other tribes other than theirs.

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Nigerians usually express their political and social views publicly and in a rather frank manner. This no doubt is a great trait loved by many other nationals. However, this fondness for freedom of expression has led to emergence of a disturbing trend over the years as the line between freedom of speech and hate speech has become blurred.

AljazirahNigeria believes there is an urgent need to do something about hate speech because of its tendency to exacerbate ethnicity and crisis in our nation building process.

There are individuals and groups in Nigeria who openly relish the freedom to rain insults and profile others by appropriating to themselves the role of ethnic and religious champions.

The problem is that hate speech is often the gateway to discrimination, harassment and violence as well as a precursor to serious harmful criminal acts. It is doubtful if there will be hate-motivated violent attacks on any group without hate speeches.

While there is nothing wrong in people celebrating pride in their ethnic and other cultural identities, it is wrong to speak down on other tribes, religious and ethnic groups.

AljazirahNigeria urges Nigerians to desist from using dangerous words capable of hampering disunity in the country, and support the government in promoting amongst different ethnic groups. The priority of Nigerians should be focused on nation building, economic development, and peaceful coexistence.

We also urge the Nigerian government to make laws to prohibit hate speeches, and not just making the laws, but implement it as most countries have sufficient laws to prohibit hate speech on the Internet and social media.

Media houses also have important roles to play in nation building and guiding against publishing hate speeches which can initiate civil strife.

Media houses through their unions should incorporate these as part of good journalism practice and impose sanctions on erring members who publish or broadcast hate speech-laden materials.

We cannot afford to witness another civil war as no nation has survived two of such bloody conflagrations.

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