Ferdinand Nahimana was the founder of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, RTLM, a Rwandan radio station that was on air between July 8, 1993 to July 31, 1994. RTLM played a significant role during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
During Ferdinand’s sentencing by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Judge Navanethem Pillay, a South African member of the tribunal said “without a firearm or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians”.
Pillay said this, because Nahimana oversaw the use of radio as the ‘invisible machete’.
His medium was used for extensive dissemination of hate speech. Beyond Rwanda, history captures the atrocities carried out that were actively enabled by hate speech. One cannot but remember what happened that led to the holocaust in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and how the mass media played a role.
Considering how far radio, television, and indeed newspapers reach, they are a very potent conduit for escalating conflict.
Some have argued that there is nothing like hate speech captured in the law books. Radical Lagos human rights lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa recently said as much. In a recent article, Adegboruwa disagrees with the existence of hate speech and termed it as an “unqualified freedom of speech”. He opines that every citizen should be allowed to speak freely, whether what they say have the potential to lead to the harm of an innocent citizen or not.
I beg to disagree with Mr. Adegboruwa.
There might not be a term “hate speech” explicitly expressed in the law books, but the law books also assure of the safety of every Nigerian citizen anywhere they live, and frowns against any act that might lead to incitement.
Hate speech falls under this category. What Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa actually fails to realize is that a number of human right treaties, including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in article 20(2), permits countries to prohibit hate speech. Under international law, a particular type of hate speech, “incitement to genocide”, is recognised as a crime as a crime against humanity. After the Second World War, the Nuremberg Tribunal in one of its judgments pronounced incitement to genocide as a crime, even if was not explicitly stated in law at the point of committing the crime.
What is hate speech?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, hate speech is defined as “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people”.
We can very well see the above in the manner of “free speech” that the various groups agitating for one thing or the other have been pushing out using mass media. The barbaric commentary of Radio Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu, and the hate filled songs that are reported to be playing on some radio stations in Northern Nigeria come to mind.
It frightens me many times the kind of comments I hear on Wazobia FM in Abuja when listeners call in. Sometimes I just imagine that killing of innocent people has already commenced in such neighbourhoods.
Any responsible government worth the paper on which its name is written would go the route the Nigerian government has taken. Freedom of speech is not absolute. If your freedom of speech will cause harm to another person, then the authorities are well within their right to curtail such freedoms. Your own rights must never be used to infringe on another person’s rights. Your own rights are not more sacred than another person’s.
It is in everybody’s best interest that agitations and grievances are dealt with using legal channels, any other means is a recipe for chaos and disaster.
I am fully in support of government declaring that hate speech will now be viewed as an act of terrorism and the plan to set up special courts to judiciously dispense with such cases. I am also in full support of the measures the National Broadcasting Commission is taking to put media houses in check. It is not gagging the press. It is the protection of the people of Nigeria.
We all need to be circumspect with our utterances, lest we tip the country’s peace in the direction that Rwanda’s went in 1994. We might not be as lucky as Rwanda was.
Henry Okelue is a fiery social and political commentator. He also writes about music. When he is not writing, he is a photographer and connector. You can following him on Twitter as @4eyedmonk. Henry writes from Abuja, Nigeria.