How Hate Speech Contributed To The Rwandan Genocide of 1994, A Lesson For Nigeria

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The other day, my neighbor called my other neighbor an “irresponsible weed smoker”. He got so angry and incited that if not for the intervention of people around, that scene would have made headlines. In the real sense of it, that was a hate speech.

According to the Committee of  Ministers of the Council of Europe, hate speech is ‘covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin’.

While there are several definitions of the phenomena of hate-speech, this definition covers broad areas of racism, minority and migrants’ rights as well as other forms of hate-speech based on intolerance.

The dangers of hate speech can never be underestimated as it has the power of inciting violence, hatred and even war. Rwandan is a witness of the consequences of hate speech to mention but a few.

In the light of this, I participated in a public hearing on the campaign against hate and inciteful speech in Nigeria organized by Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy, and Development which took place in Jos, Plateau State. Savannah Centre is a Non-Governmental Organization concerned with promoting democracy, peace and development across Nigeria.

The public hearing started at about 10:00a.m with a brief introduction by Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki, Executive Director of Savannah Centre who in explicit terms explained to us what the organization is all about and the reason for organizing the public hearing. He went further to give us a brief enlightenment on hate speech and its dangers stating that hate speech is one of the major causes of violence in Nigeria.

‘Seeing they say, is believing’, we were shown a movie titled “Hotel Rwanda”. Personally, I have seen hotel Rwandan severally but I never realized how hate speech had greatly contributed in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. In that movie, we saw how the media was used to spew hate speech by one ethnic group calling the other “cockroaches”. This incited hate and violence which lead to the death of thousands of people. This was one of the most severe genocide the world had ever recorded.

Moving on from the movie, there was a presentation on the dangers of hate and inciteful speech by Dr. Jonathan Ishaku who explained that the reason for hate speech in Nigeria is as a result of diverse ethnic and religious groups who have no tolerance for each other. Two public statements in 2017 added to the tensions and made violence more likely. The first statement, known as the Kaduna Declaration, was issued by a coalition of youth groups from Nigeria’s north, who called for the Igbo people to leave northern Nigeria so that the north of Nigeria could form its own nation. The statement argued that “It since ceased to be comfortable or safe to continue sharing the same country with the ungrateful, uncultured Igbo’s who have exhibited reckless disrespect for the other federating units and stained the integrity of the entire nation with their insatiable criminal obsessions” It can be recalled that this statement caused tension in Kaduna with many Igbo’s fleeing for their lives.

Furthermore, he mentioned the role that the media plays in propagating hate speech with social media having the most effect. In recent times, social media platforms such as twitter, facebook and instagram have been turned to battle grounds where hate speeches are perpetuated with some of them deteriorating into verbal abuses.

Dr. Jonathan closed the presentation with ways to prevent hate speech by emphasizing on the role that civil societies have to play by sensitizing citizens on the dangers of hate speech.

The next session was views and presentations from participants and we took turns in giving our various opinions on how to effectively solve the problem of hate speech which is fast gaining strong ground in Nigeria. We all came to the conclusion that we don’t need hate speech to make our views heard. There are more subtle and peaceful ways of passing across our opinions.

From my own point of view, we all should bear in mind that people don’t always have to agree with our opinion and the fact that you don’t agree with someone else’s opinion does not make it wrong. We should have tolerance for each other and co-exist in peace and harmony. More so, although the Nigerian constitution provides for freedom of speech as one of the fundamental human right, that freedom is not absolute because #HateSpeechIsNotFreeSpeech.

Eunice Enoch is a Program Assistant at Basic Rights Watch

Follow here @EuniceEnoch1

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